Video Games for Roman History Buffs. The Young (and the Sun) are a Blessing

Antonio from Venafrum (Οὐέναφρον) chances upon a friend in a Roman alley.

ψ

“Hi, how’s is it going?”

“We’re all fine, thank you. How about you? Already moved to your new job’s office?”

“I’ve only got the first meeting in half an hour so I’ll run away. I’ve been thinking, why don’t you try one of those luscious video-games about Rome?”

“What??”

“I mean … Hey, listen to me – his voice now firm though gentle – you’re a Rome fiend, there’s a whole variety out there … let me see (*reading quickly from his smartphone*).”

“Here we are. Rome Total War; Glory of the Roman Empire; Caesar; Europa Universalis etc. You search high and low and you’ll surely find what better suits you, ok? I’ll rush now, bye!”

 

An outdoors cafe in Rome

People dining at outdoor tables on Piazza Navona outdoors cafe in Rome. Courtesy of Lonley Planet. Click for source file

 

ψ

A tough and swift young man, no doubt.

Minutes later the old man, tired and perplexed, is sitting at an outdoors cafe in Piazza Navona. Clouds are all over the sky, a strange light looming over the ‘Caffè Dolce Vita’, heavily crowded.

Then, in a flash, the sun floods everywhere by piercing through the clouds. Everybody lights up, Romans and tourists now chatting happily or, in the piazza in front, strolling by cheerfully in the piazza once the Stadium of Domitian.

 

“The sun (and the young) are always a great resource …”

.. he muses, sipping calmly, in satisfaction, his classic cappuccino.

 

Look, it is so clear from this angle: piazza Navona is the  ancient Roman Stadium of Domitianus!  (Courtesy of 'An Aggie's Blog While Abroad'. Click for file source)

Look, so clear from this viewpoint, Piazza Navona was the ancient Roman Stadium of Domitianus (Courtesy of ‘An Aggie’s Blog While Abroad’. Source )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources of a genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plutarch, Parallel Lives:

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

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

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

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th-century portrait

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

Pessimism of Aristocrats
defeated by Caesarism

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

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

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

Which were these ideals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vercingetorix, national hero
of Gaul (and of France)

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

ψ

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

A coin depicting an idealised Vercingetorix

A coin depicting an idealised Vercingetorix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coins from Gaul

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

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

A new Arvernian chieftain

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

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

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

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

A Gallic human sacrifice

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

Ceremony of surrender

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

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

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar by Henri Paul Motte

Vercingetorix before Caesar (by Henri Paul Motte, 1886)

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

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

ψ

[The above patchwork in French]

ψ

Previous installments:

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

See also:

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

“Caesar was like the wind. Can we condemn the wind? And yet what scourge can it bring forth!” (3)

The death of Julius Caesar (Vincenzo Camuccini 1771-1844)

The death of Julius Caesar (by Vincenzo Camuccini 1771-1844). Detail. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Roma. Click for a complete view

From positive evaluations on Caesar’s actions we now turn to perplexed criticism expressed by some ancient Romans. In the upcoming and last chapter we will deal with some harsher criticism on Caesar.

Livy cited by Seneca

Livy, in a lost book (106?) of his History of Rome, calls into question the entire action of Caesar.

We know since Livy’s judgment is cited by the philosopher Seneca years later (2 generations from Livy’s time and 4 from Cesar’s, roughly.)

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Photo by Massimo Finizio. Click for source

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Photo by Massimo Finizio. Click for source

Seneca – we like to imagine – is narrating to his pupil Lucilius (Naturales quaestiones, V, 18, 4) the science of his time, Nero‘s time.

After having explained the nature of meteors, rainbows, earthquakes and so forth, Seneca addresses ‘wind’.

Wind is useful – he argues – since it allows “communication among all the different nations … A great service is this that nature here renders, did not man’s madness turn it to his own injury!”

[Seneca here refers to winds that push ships, stir things etc.]

Blessing or curse?

Here comes the quote:

“The remark which was commonly made regarding Gaius Julius Caesar as recorded by Livy – that it was doubtful whether his birth was a blessing or a curse to the state – may be applied to the winds.”

Busto di Cesare. Museo nazionale di Napoli

Caesar’s Bust. Naples National Museum

So, through a poetic metaphor, Seneca lets us know both Livy’s perplexity and his own regarding Caesar’s deeds. We will try to better understand.

First of all, is it a hostile judgement? A very perplexed one, rather (Luciano Canfora’s comment). “Since – Canfora observes – nobody would ‘condemn’ winds without appeal and yet everybody knows what scourge they can produce”.

[Luciano Canfora, Giulio Cesare, Mondadori 2010, XLII, p. 380]

A windstorm. Brittonic pearls

Seneca’s further explanation of the winds sheds some light on his own view on Caesar [italic text is mine; Canfora will then help us to read between the lines]:

“[Winds] do not cease to be inherently good, even though, through fault of those who degrade their use, they are turned to instruments of harm. Surely Providence and God, the great Disposer of the world, had a beneficent aim in establishing the winds … that the atmosphere might be kept in motion by them, that no part of the world should become unsightly through inactivity. His object was not that we might man our fleet with armed soldiers to seize every quarter of the main, and that we might go in search of foes either in or beyond the sea.”

“In its profundity – Luciano Canfora observes – the comparison is sort of paralyzing: Seneca stops on the brink of a judgement he can not make. Through the metaphor of the wind he alludes to Julius Caesar, represented as a windstorm.”

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Cleopatra and Caesar

Was Cleopatra wearing Brittonic pearls? According to Pliny the Elder (Natural History : IX.116) Caesar dedicated a thorax decorated with British pearls to Venus Genetrix. Jean-Léon Gérome (1824-1904) painted how Cleopatra and Caesar first met according to Plutarch (Caes. 49). Click for source

Canfora then adds [paraphrased]:

The metaphor well fits Caesar’s warlike hyperactivity, when Seneca mentions a degraded use of winds pushing ships over the sea, not for exploration or communication, but for wars in the sea or beyond the sea. ‘Beyond’ the sea – Canfora argues – cannot but allude to the erratic expedition in Britannia, judged unreasonable by many: a useless carnage carried out – to some – for greed of Brittonic pearls (Suetonius, Caesar 47; Pliny, Natural History, IX.116, 169; Gibbon believed it, Ch I; read a great article by Bill Thayers.)

Roots of perplexity

So this whole post is about the perplexity a few ancient Romans felt before Caesar’s warlike restlessness.

[Only a few? Seneca had talked of a 'commonly made' remark: quod vulgo dictatum est]

This perplexity, it should be noted, hit even those who – like Livy, Seneca and others – had benefited from the new course introduced by Caesar (new conquests, the Empire with its better organization etc.)

Why then such perplexity, Canfora asks himself?
[Giulio Cesare, XLII p . 383]

For humanitarian reasons, basically: the horrible human cost of eight years of war in Gaul and 5 years of civil war.

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

Other installments:

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When North-West Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
Conquest Of Gaul. Debate On Julius Caesar’s Conduct, Motives, Achievements (2)
The ‘Black Book’ Of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Campaign. Harsher Criticism on Caesar(ism) (4)

See also:

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
Caesar, Great Man and Don Juan

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Toto and Luigi, or Gigi, Calcagni (13)

Luigi Calcagni, one of Carlo Calcagni’s two younger brothers. Click to enlarge. “To my dear mummy, on May 24th 1909″

[13th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text]

Preamble

Carlo Calcagni had no children [see the original text in Italian] but for example his brother Gigi had nine, 6 girls and 3 boys, so I was asking myself: is it possible that no descendant is contacting me as for these memoirs I am posting?

At last Lorena Baroncini, Manuela and Maura Calcagni showed up, a lovely surprise (also Christian Floquet did: I will mention him in a later post).

Lorena, Maura and Manuela are in fact descendants of Gigi Calcagni [see his picture above], one of Carlo Calcagni’s two younger brothers. This is why I’ve decided to dedicate a post to Gigi Calcagni by collecting Carlo’s scattered memories about him.

Gigi was the tallest in his family, 1.82 mt, which, in those days – beginning of 1900 – and in this country meant being really tall. He therefore joined the grenadiers.

“He volunteered at 17 before his call-up – Carlo writes - and was rising through the ranks having no qualification since he had abandoned school in order to embrace the military career.”

Gigi was the one who accompanied his father Nino in his walks:

“When my father was looking for company in his long walks in the country – Carlo continues – the most enthusiastic was my brother Luigi, very young at that time but very big, or lanky, already. He followed my father like a dog for hours, then came back home tired and hungry beyond description.”

He married a certain Margherita.

“Margherita also exceeds the average height for women … their children all turning up colossal: a beautiful family whose females are like valkyries, and the first male a big and handsome young man … So big and beefy they are that they have cost Gigi a fortune in order to feed and to clothe them. Financial means: little, hence great and exhausting toil for him.”

Luigi was extremely strong and a good companion in their swims in the Tiber.

“And he fought with Toto, our dog, in World War I in the Grenadiers’ II Corps which distinguished itself in several battles.”

To proceed further we must therefore talk about Toto, the Calcagnis’ dog. From now on I hand over the floor to Carlo.

 Toto and Gigi, fellow soldiers

Toto, great Toto, priceless Toto … our dog or, to be precise, my dog … a fox [Terrier?] of the purest breed, all white with a maculated head … a dog that people turned around to admire in the street, a dog that Marquis Calabrini, the King’s squire, came to look for up to our house in order to buy him and bring him to the King’s kennel: he would have paid any sum to have Toto.

From our house window my sister Maria, Toto’s closest friend, cried, particularly indignant and resentful:

“Toto is not for sale. What then? Are we going to repeat the ‘Joseph sold by his brothers’ story?”

Calabrini – I remember as if it were now – went away between admired, astounded, confused and very perplexed.

My brother Luigi progressed in his career as a noncommissioned officer of the grenadiers. He came home every day and then went back to his quarters in S. Croce in Gerusalemme.

He had already experienced war, the Italo-Turkish war or Libyan war, from where he had returned safe and sound despite he had found himself in the firing line in battles such as, for example, Sidi Said and Bir Tobras.

Ponte Sisto on the Tiber as it is today. Click for credits and to enlarge

Getting back home from war he looked at our small house with pleasure, the one we lived in overlooking Ponte Sisto (see picture above,) and said with intention “Oh, we’ve got gas now” (great news for our home since there always had been petroleum, and little of it). Then sitting at the table in front of a good steak (a horse steak although he didn’t know that) he began to eat at a good pace. At one point while cutting the meat and it escaping the grip of his fork he deftly caught it and with his deep voice mimicked the carter who tries to stop the horse, “Leh ….”

A dream! He had immediately understood how and why there could be so much luxury of meat in our house. A little humour inherited from my father but more serious, more restrained and, above all, much less frequent.

Toto, War Volunteer

Then came the First World War with the departure of my brother Luigi as warrant officer together with a volunteering Toto.

Toto’s voluntary service went in this way.

Gigi told me one day:

“Would you give me Toto? I’ll bring him to war with me. He will keep me company and, together with him, I will bring along a piece of home and of you all.”

We were puzzled and between yes and no until the day of the actual departure from the Tuscolana railway station.

All of us, mum, Maria etc. plus Toto went for the ritual adieu. It was a long unending troop train of grenadiers, all the Second Regiment. Gigi went up and down the train to see if everything was all right in order to communicate and enforce orders and regulations. And Toto, without us or Gigi calling him was running back and forth between my brother and us, extremely agitated.

When it was departure time and the train had almost moved, Toto jumped into the car where Gigi was and immediately looked out the window to say goodbye to us.

Toto had left as a war volunteer.

A smooth Fox Terrier. Click for attribution

He behaved very well and always accompanied Gigi in all expeditions there including the very risky ones… Gigi took him under his coat while riding his mule and Toto didn’t utter a sound: he knew very well how to play the military dog … Of course all these feats had won Toto the affection of all the grenadiers …

When Gigi was once on leave he arrived in the dead of night. By hearing the family whistle everyone jumped out of bed to open the street and the flat doors. Toto was there with him and there hugs and rejoicing occurred for the two fellow soldiers. Then of course we went to bed and Toto triumphantly resumed his place on the bed at my feet according to his ingrained habit. Have a good night and rest: lights are turned off.

At one point Gigi, needing a piece of cigar for his pipe, carelessly walked into my room. Toto immediately attacked him since this time he didn’t serve any more as a fellow soldier, but rather as a guardian of his truer and senior master. I remember Gigi saying to Toto the bitterest insults that dog ever received from its master.

ψ

When the war ended Gigi returned home, got his discharge with honour and passed to the civil service at the Ministry of Finance. He was then employed at Banco Roma and later obtained a post in the Governorate of the Vatican City.

Original text in Italian
Published in: on October 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm  Comments (6)  
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Contemporary ‘Romans’? World’s Folks May Tread On US, We’ll Survive

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 …”

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (2)

Refugees from North Africa are flooding Lampedusa, Sicily

[read the previous chapter]

Libya, a Critical Situation

“Thousands of people, mainly from Tunisia, but also from Libya and Egypt, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks” (BBC).

“Since January Italy is facing an exceptional flux of immigrants, with over 22,000 landings mainly from Tunisia… from Eritrea and Somalia via Libya on the island of Lampedusa.” (Le Monde)

Lampedusa, between Sicily and Tunisia

The situation in Libya is more critical. According to Le Monde anti-Gaddafi rebels have no military experience, despite arms and support arriving from Egypt and Nato intervention. The port city of Misrata in north-western Libya (130 mi to the east of Tripoli, see image below) seems now to be the hub of the crisis.

Gaddafi is ready to conquer it and there are rumours of tortures suffered by the unfortunate who in Misrata fell into the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces. BBC mentions use of “human shields in the war-torn town.”

Libyan uprising main cities. Via Wikipedia. Click to enlarge

According to one of Gaddafi’s 5 beautiful Ukrainan nurses, El Rais’s health is that of an iron-man :roll:

Is the Ukrainian nurse’s evaluation accurate? Well, a desert raider like him might get extra boost from ‘fight’. Berlusconi is similar but he is not a desert man

France who first led to the intervention now fears that “we are likely to get bogged down in Misrata” (as French foreign Minister Alain Juppé’s put it). France also fears too many immigrants are coming from Italy. Italy protests France is against the Schengen agreement and says Europe should help to contain the human flood.

More British war planes seem ready to begin ground attacks (instead of just no-fly-zone checks.)

Gaddafi has sent a message to Obama yesterday. Today H. Clinton dismissed it saying he must resign and go into exile. Anti-Gaddafi rebels complain that bureaucracy is causing “Nato to take too long to respond to calls for air strikes” (BBC ) [not to mention the fact that Nato has killed quite a few anti-Gaddafi protesters by mistake!]

Berlusconi and Sarkozi will meet in Rome on April 26th. By the way Italy has finally recognised Libya’s rebel National Council.

Berlusconi was hesitant given his personal ties with Gaddafi. Now that all is more or less in the hands of Nato he looks happier.

Moscow, Berlin and Turkish Ankara seek a role as mediators. Ankara has sent Ambassador Omur Soledin to Libya.

ψ

These the recent facts. Allow me some (Roman) rambling now.

Lost in their Opiate Dream

Women of Algiers

Women of Algiers by Eugène Delacroix, 1834, the Louvre, Paris. Click for a wider view of this great but a tad decadent painting (this is just a detail) and for credits

Aren’t the French and the British lost in an opiate dream that they can still play a world role ‘of their own’? I am for a EU tighter unification, it is clear, and any prima donna or Trojan horse trying to dismantle such process from within really rails me.

The Britons are famous in their efforts to obstruct any real unification of ‘the continent’ – from Napoleon’s (was it good?) and Hitler’s (it was good) until today.

And the French? Are they pro EU only when they can play a grandeur role in it?

[Gosh, when at times they pronounce this word (France) I cannot but think of De Gaulle (my father imitated le Général not without fidelity and humour) who used to say he had 'une certaine idée de la Fraaaance'.]

Of course I can understand their opiate dream, their greatness belonging to only 4-6 generations ago, a short span of time. But aren’t their imperial souvenirs damaging this region, Europe, the richest of the planet (not for long) but the weakest politically?  With the huge challenges ahead of us (ie Bric) is it intelligent? Is it forward-thinking?

[See a presumptuous post of mine on EU Trojan Horses]

Braudel observed:
“Sicile-Afrique? Fondamentale”

Italy, the eternal loose woman, is reclining herself on the middle of the Mediterranean.

Fernand Braudel:

L’Italie, avec la Sicile et la Tunisie coupent la Mediterranée en deux … Est et Ouest. La liaison Sicile Afrique est fondamentale”.

This centrality favoured the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean.

Carthage (today’s Tunis) had the same central position in the Med though reversed (from South northwards). Rome though won (but … read here)

Italy and Tunisia cut the Mediterranean in two. Wikimedia. Click to enlarge

Among the European nations Italy is perhaps the most popular in North Africa and the whole Med area (some grudge left in Libya, of course.)

We eat the same food, they sing our songs (and us theirs but we’re not aware of it,) they watch since the 1950s our now horrible TV, they get consoled and excited by our III-World South which they can understand.

Tunisia in the last 100 years always looked at Sicily (and Italy) as a beloved guiding light and its greatest inspiring model (“les Italiens pour nous sont comme des dieux”, “Italians are like gods to us”, a Tunisian manager once told me. You may like this post.

This role of Italy – its Mediterranean centrality over the millennia and our today’s persisting cultural and economical influence – is responsible in my view for a certain succession of events:

Berlusconi –> Ben Ali –> Mubarak …. then the rest of the Arab Spring.

A theory of mine perhaps. So let’s now test it.

All North Africa is exploding. Arab protesters in Paris. Click for credits and to enlarge

Arab 2011 Revolution.
Are all MED BIG MEN resonating?

1) Berlusconi began to wobble …

… and while the entire world was cheerfully chatting about it (lots of fun stuff) the Tunisians were watching closely...

[Some mysterious harmony vibrating in the Mediterranean ...]

They couldn’t but notice this North MED(iterranean) BIG MAN about to fall, and they know he being not terribly different from many other modern-day MED BIG MEN all over coastal Mediterranean.

[A darn tradition of ours. Let us mention: a majority of tyrants in Greek city states, Alexander and the Hellenistic monarchs; the Roman well balanced republic later superseded by Julius Caesar, Augustus & other emperors; Louis XIV le Roi Soleil; Napoleon; Napoleon III; Mussolini il duce; Hitler son of romanized Austria-Germany;  Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria; Francisco Franco, the Caudillo; Salazar his neighbour; De Gaulle le général; Italian Umberto Bossi il celodurista (I got it hard!) and Silvio Berlusconi il Cavaliere]

Of course our PM is not Bel Ali, Gaddafi or Mubarak. Italy is democratic.

But Italy (unique in the West) has this patriarchal-paternal figure (Papi his girls called him) whose de facto powers go beyond democracy. Berlusconi can influence voters being the richest tycoon and media owner in our country - as if President Clinton and Murdoch were the same person!

Now our PM has though less constitutional power than Clinton and our usually sage President of Republic counts too in our charter. Magistrates are independent and tough, and people are not stupid. Which all is saving our ass from media fascism I hope.

So Berlusconi is something Tunisians could understand. Ben Ali controlled almost all Tunisian media via his family (I worked for a Tunisian Internet company owned by Ben Ali’s daughter or wife, I forgot.)

ψ

2) … so Tunisia blew up. Also plagued by unemployment etc. Tunisia rebels against Ben Ali’s well-organized fascism. I am witness to black-clad secret police guys’ total ubiquity. Mediterranean resonating empathy I’ll repeat.

After Berlusconi wobbles Tunisia begins to blow. Click for credits and to enlarge

A small country Tunisia, one might say. Ok, but Tunisia’s rebellion infected Egypt.

Now THIS changed things entirely.

The Land of Pharaohs Wakes Up

Egyptian protests. March of the Millions: Tahrir Square. Click for a great night view

2) Egypt gets infected. The Arab world and beyond is following.

Well, given its ancientness & importance when Egypt sneezes a whole piece of the planet may catch pneumonia. Egypt is the most respected Arab state of all, beyond a doubt.

Digression. According to the Indian-British Indologist A. L. Basham – A Cultural History of India, Oxford 1975 p. XXI- “there are four main cradles of civilizations [on this planet]: 1.China. 2. The Indian subcontinent [probably the most influential in the very long run imo, MoR]. 3. The ‘Fertile Crescent‘ [ie Egypt, Eastern Canaan-Syria-Phoenicia, Mesopotamia ie Iraq, MoR]. 4. The Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy.”

THIS was perhaps Cleopatra – found on the Esqulinus hill, one of the 7 h. Well …

[I'm starting - some scholars are starting - to suspect a North-Europe Hyperborean cradle too. Read here if you dare :-) ...]

Egypt is at the head of num 3 region (even though Iraq invented writing.) The Greeks totally recognized Egyptian and other Eastern influences.

[But some scholars in-between 1800s-1900s  - mainly German but not only - wanted ALL colonizing West's knowledge to be derived from an abstract ‘pure’ Greece in order to justify the exploitation of the lower-races. Winckelmann (1717 - 1768) earlier and Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) bear a foundational responsibility among the rest for this gloomy error]

Pythagoras (Πυθαγόρας) who spread a scientific-religious cult all over South Italy – which will affect Plato, ALL West science & the core of Christianity – travelled long years in Egypt, in the Middle East and Mesopotamia perhaps too: he was permeated by African and Eastern wisdom! Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) surely spent years in Egypt. Just 2 examples, the former being the greatest of them as for the future of Western culture.

Btw, the story of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Gaius Octavius and Cleopatra - do you remember it? (see above how sexy might have been Κλεοπάτρα, the last Pharaoh of Egypt; read this post)

Now all is getting dangerous  – but also promising let’s hope for humankind.

ψ

So let us laugh a bit. Berlusconi-owned newspapers barked against France who dared enter Mare Nostrum ie the Med:

“Beyond the Alps they should remember once in a while that in their history they don’t just have Napoleon, they also have General Cambronne!” (ineffable Georgio Mulé)

Filippo Ceccarelli’s comment on the Roman daily Repubblica:

“Imagine which weight will be given, in that place of sheer humility that is Paris, to this saucy invitation from George Mulé.”

A wild laugh, that gave me a half hour of oblivion.

ψ

This whole Arab thing is dangerous but I am fascinated that many of these countries are more ancient than Italy or Greece.

It is important to understand that Syria, Egypt etc. are not only Arabic: they are much more (and earlier) than that (read 1, 2 – delighful Diana Haddad! – and especially 3)

The more ancient a country – pls be patient – the greater its reverberations in large parts of the world.

Hadn’t Islamic revolution started in Iran, former ancient (non Arabic) Persia at the head of a thousands-year-old Empire, great model for Alexander and later Rome?

Which also explains why Fascism, invented by the Italians – a complete and rich State theory & practice – was so influential in the world despite Italy’s negligible economical importance at that time.

Which applies even more to today’s Egypt. A whole piece of the world is now boiling because of the land of the Pharaohs.

ψ

As French Fernand Braudel loved to say – “civilizations are not mortal.”

Related posts:

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (1)

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Love Words from Egypt

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1


Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea

Over at the Hannibal’s. Can We Really ‘Know’ the Greco-Romans? (2)

The Ancient Roman ‘Temple of all gods’ (Pantheon,) Rome. Click to zoom in

[continued from part 1]

Opinion and Knowledge (of the Ancients)

MoR: “Douglas, you are a friend and you raise here a big philosophical question: whether man can reach truth. I’m not qualified, my wife is the epistemologist of the family (she has a degree on philosophy of science) and all I understood (from our quarrels) is that ‘scientific’ research is all about trying to go beyond doxa, ie biased opinion, so you hit the nail on the head I believe.

By ‘research is progressing’ I meant: ok, we will possibly never ‘know’ these folks (Saxons invading Britain, Macedonians at the times of Alexander etc.) but the various ‘pictures’ we have of them are enriched day by day, researchers communicating more (such ‘pictures’ are interrelated), and, our sources being not only ancient literary texts (which reflect the view of the writer) but of course also the (less biased?) ‘data’ from archaeology, biology, from studies on agricultural techniques, fossil seeds etc.

As an example (also of various doxas coexisting), the ‘picture(s)’ of Rome’s fall – the period 300-600 CE, ‘late antiquity’ ie between antiquity and middle ages – have changed dramatically in the minds of many specialists, I believe, although the public still thinks in terms of a Gibbon’s progressively decadent, imploding empire (Gibbons mentioned Rome’s ‘immoderate greatness’ so that “the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight” plus he blamed Christianity for Rome’s weakening) which received the last blow by totally ‘rough’ Germanic barbarians.

Who is right? I don’t know, these younger historians though surely profiting from a lot more of multi-disciplinary data I think.

The Barbarian Kingdoms, ca. 526 CE. By the 6th century the Western Roman Empire had been replaced by smaller kingdoms. Click for credits and to zoom in

Feeling Too Superior, Was Rome ‘Murdered’?

It seems the news is ‘electric’ (as Peter Heather put it in his The Fall of the Roman Empire) for both the descendants of the Romans and of the Germans – I belonging to both a bit, as I said in my mystical (and emphatic) *first post*.

Basically:

  1. the ‘late’ Roman empire was a total success story.
  2. Germanic, non Roman, Europe was a two-speed reality (no new thing lol,) one portion being much more civilised than we had thought, surely influenced by Rome but absolutely non Roman (so this doesn’t include Bavaria or Austria, that were romanized, and, not by chance, when ‘Nordic’ Luther arrived, they said: no thanks).

So what the hell happened? Why healthy Rome fell?

Possibly because, blinded by her sense of superiority, Rome made fatal mistakes, and was murdered by the German Goths. Within though a period of ‘collaboration’ with the Germans.

[No easy topic the fall of Rome. Here's a big list of theories on it.]

[I believe Christianity helped a bit (love your enemy blah blah, Gibbon in this was right imo), but I still have to figure out to which extent.]

Even the German Women were terrific fighters

J. Caesar Admired German Valour

MoR: PS. Excuse my logorrhea, such ‘collaboration’ between Germans and Romans was started by Julius Caesar the Myth. One reason he conquered Gaul [today's France, Luxembourg and Belgium] was that the Germans, much stronger than the Gauls or Celts, were crossing the Rhenus (Rhine) in flocks and invading Gaul (so Caesar by conquering Gaul postponed an invasion that occurred much later with the German Franks, thence the name of France.)

Therefore Caesar, after defeating the Germans of Ariovistus, said to the toughest prisoners: “I admire your valour, so I give you a choice: either to be sold in the slave markets or to become my personal guard”. I think the Germans preferred the latter also because it was in their culture to follow the leader that proved most valorous.

Julius Caesar

Caesar took a risk, but not that much I believe. He belonged to the impoverished nobility and was a son of the slums of Rome (Subura) where he probably had lived in contact with Germans and Gauls long enough to understand their mentality. And surely, in the conquest of Gaul that ensued, the Germans proved much more faithful to Caesar than the Celts allied to the Romans. From that day many Roman emperors had German gorillas protecting them – not to mention foot soldiers and Cavalry, also used by Caesar.

Douglas: MoR, thus began the Praetorian Guard (under Augustus, successor to Julius) which became the controllers of the fates of emperors for 300 years until Constantine disbanded them. Perhaps that had something to do with the fall of Rome? Hitler seemed to have read his history well and created his own guard but tried to control them utterly and was quite successful in maintaining their total loyalty. Did il Duce? Certainly, he had his personal guard but they failed to protect him in the end from the citizens.

I think (to get back to history and understanding the common citizen of any culture or state) that with the expansion of literacy came more understanding. One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite. Ancient Rome (and Athens, Egypt, and so forth) are known by what its rulers (for the most part) decided was important (and, often, flattering). To learn about the average citizen, we must make guesses and extrapolations based on myths and legends and on relics found. Do we taint these guesses and extrapolations with our own biases? Probably so.

But my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.

Old Temple of Athena at the Acropolis of Athens. Click for credits and to enlarge

MoR:

my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.

It certainly was Douglas.

MoR: [talking to both Douglas and Phil] “That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people, do envy.

As for the Praetorian guard, I just now read in the Wikipedia that their role – according to who wrote the article – was of stability to the Empire on the whole. I don’t think though the Praetorian guard (a substantial army) were Germans (I only believe a few gorillas around many emperors were). And maybe some of the Praetorians were, I don’t know. I’m sure instead the legions who fought against the enemies of Rome had a progressively increasing number of Germans, which in the end became a problem possibly.

Rome is an Idea

Rome was more an idea, she was pretty international. The emperors themselves (Spanish, Arab etc.) could come from any land of the empire (like the Popes.)

It is little known that Caesar’s legions who conquered Gaul came mostly from Gallia Cisalpina, today’s northern Italy (80% sure). Big difference was there between these Italian Gauls and, so to say, the French ones. The former were Celts too (though with doses of Roman & Latin blood) but wore the toga (Gallia Togata is another name for it), eg were deeply romanized (Virgil, Pompey the Great etc. came from there), hence immensely more faithful to Rome than any other external people.

They only lacked regular Roman citizenship, which was given them as a prize by Caesar at the end of his Celtic wars. So Caesar – no Hitler or Mussolini indeed – had also the merit to create the unity of Italians, re-attained only 150 years ago!

The Roman legion was a perfect and disciplined war machine. Click to zoom in

Do We Know the ‘Average’ Roman?

One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite.

True, but pls, allow me, we know something (I’d say a lot) about the average Roman too (who btw exchanged letters – the middle class – but we have lost most of them). Comedies were for the common people as well, or they would have been unsuccessful – there were no cinema or TV, thence theatre was terribly important – plus we have thousands of graffiti – whole sentences, poems etc. – written by the upper middle and lower classes: you probably under estimate the complexity of ancient society, no less structured than ours. Yes, the lower classes could be literate too, although, ok, the rate of illiteracy was higher, but, since religion touched the middle and the lower milieus especially, and we knowing A LOT about it (by Roman religion I mean ALL the cults present in Rome, Christianity included) I can infer that:

We know a lot about the poor people as well. The whole (monumentally documented) history of the progressive success of Christianity tells tons of things about the lower classes of the whole empire from the times of early Christians onwards. Just think of the letters by Paul of Tarsus: he had to persuade the non Pagan populace of the Empire – slaves included: see image below – but most of all he had to inspire & guide the faith of the already Christian elements – his message hence being directed to ALL social classes, it goes without saying.

Places visited by Paul. His letters tell about the life of the common people of the empire

I mean, we even know – due to the translations of the Bible – the Greek & Latin language actually spoken by the populace: for the reasons you mention the language of the poor and of the rich differed in sophistication.

As for simple-to-the-masses Latin the first translations of the Bible – Jerome’s not by chance is called ‘vulgata’, from vulgus, populace – appeared in the 4th century CE if I’m not wrong. They were written in non literary, ‘vulgar’ Latin, – eg that everyone could understand – to the extent that today’s Italians with a high-school diploma can more or less read them, vulgar Latin and Italian being closely related (whatever you Phil may think about it lol :-) ).

I have to stop this, Douglas. Thanks for obliging this lazy old man to work.

Douglas:

That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people on the whole, do envy.

Actually, it is both of those men who made the association. Not unusual for more modern despots to see themselves in the same light as men whom history has portrayed as great.
(Gen. Patton saw himself as a reincarnation of soldiers of the past and, I suspect, great generals and military leaders)

Julius took control of the political structure of Rome and turned it away from being a true republic of the times. He had himself declared dictator. He took total control of both the political and military structures. And was assassinated for it. But he laid the groundwork for Augustus to become Emperor. In some ways, he created the Roman Empire. First, by expanding the territory under its control and, second, by changing its political structure and laying the groundwork for dictatorial rule.

As I understand it, the literacy rate of Rome was ~15%. This would be the elite ruling class and the “middle class”. The “middle class” would be better described as the merchant class. This would be where the graffiti came from, as well as the letters.

When I spoke of the correspondence of American citizens, it began with the literate classes. But later it expanded into the general public as education expanded. We were fortunate that we began as a country after the invention of the printing press and at the beginning of the expansion of literacy. It is more the good fortune of our time period than anything else.

Try to understand, I am not denigrating Rome’s history. I am trying to explain my scepticism of history in general before the advent of the spread of literacy.

ψ

Read part 1 of this conversation

Do We Have Balls To Live Withouth Religion? INVICTUS

Inner Bravery and Endurance

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

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

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

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

The Victorians, Mandela, the Afrikaans

Nelson Mandela in 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

I forgot someone. Nelson Mandela.

Invictus

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

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

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

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

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

William Ernest Henley, 1875

Note on Man & Religion

So beautiful, inspiring.

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

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

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

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

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

Ψ

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

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

So in the end:

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

ψ

Related posts:

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

A final note.

(I know, I’ll lose ALL my readers …)

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

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

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

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

ψ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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