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Alla faccia della Grande Bellezza (e in onore der Depardieu de Torpignattara), un pezzo di pianoforte romano-tosto (e per niente decadente)

Via Torpignattara, anni '50. Veduta del mercato e dell'incrocio con Via Casilina

“Via Torpignattara, anni ’50. Veduta del mercato e dell’incrocio con Via Casilina. Sullo sfondo Piazza della Marranella con l’abbeveratoio dei cavalli”. Cliccare per i credits, per altre immagini e accedere a un bel sito sul quartiere

Listen to this:
(by MoR, wait a few seconds)

ψ

Lello, er romanaccio Depardieu (always with us in spirit?) says:

“Un po’ contemporanea, ‘sta litania.”

Mario:

“What is this sh** …”

Experimenting (with
the Romanesco dialect)

[To the English-speaking: This post being partly written in the Romanesco dialect Google translations might be unpredictable]

[Al lettore italiano: parlare il romanesco, ok, ma scriverlo - e studiarlo come lingua - è un'altra cosa. 1° sperimento]

‘Nnamo (let’s start.)

Il Depardieu del Casilino

Gérard Depardieu al Film Festival di Brlino del 2010

Gérard Depardieu au Film Festival de Berlin (2010.)  Click for credits

Incontro Lello a un bar di Torpignattara. Sta ordinando una Ceres.

ψ

Ogni tanto ci capito, a Torpignattara, perché se hai fortuna incontri i romani veri – magari non del tempo di Tito (come gli ebrei del rione S. Angelo) – ma veri in ogni caso, di 7 generazioni.

ψ

Corpulento, sui 40 anni, i braccioni tatuati che se t’agguantano ti stritolano, Lello ha i tratti marcati e sarebbe il perfetto Gérard Depardieu del Casilino se fosse un po’ più gallico e un po’ meno scuro nei capelli e negli occhi.

Saltuariamente – al Pantheon, a piazza Navona, al centro, in definitiva – Lello compare e scompare come un fantasma suonando percussioni esotiche assieme a un contrabbassista emaciato, a un sassofonista colla panza tonda, e a un chitarrista eccezionale – il cappello calato e gli occhi quasi nascosti dalle rughe – che pare sia di Birmingham

[Lello dice che è di Birmingham e io gli credo]

Sorseggia la Ceres, guardandosi lentamente attorno. E’ il suo mondo, il suo ambiente.

Lello è un capo.

A ‘sto punto, dico, la ordino pure io, sta Danese perché è così particolare sto Lello che voglio che mi si sciolga la lingua (che me s’è come ingufita coll’età).

Sorrentino ce sta affa’ neri

La Grande Bellezza

Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in ‘La Grande Bellezza’ by Paolo Sorrentino

Dico:

“Lello, a fijo de ‘na mignotta, vviè cqua!”

Si avvicina. Sempre pronto allo scambio umano, in realtà parla pochissimo. Annuisce.

“Ahó, possin’ammazzatte – dico – co’ sta Grande Bellezza Sorrentino ce sta affa’ neri. Tutto il mondo parla di metafora: metafora qua, metafora là… mo’ pure gli Americani sur Nu York Times …”

Lello è impassibile. Un minuto, forse due.

Poi guardandosi le unghie, ‘na finissima ironia nello sguardo, comincia un bofonchio che cresce man mano e si fa cavernoso.

Capisco solo le ultime tre parole:

“[...] [...] [...] M-e-t-a-f-o-r-a de che”.

Una voce dall’antro. A sentirla di notte al buio. Depardieu mi fa impazzì.

Gran bucio de c… profumato

la grande bellezza

Cerco di provocarlo (sono teso, ho bisogno di fa’ casino).

Provo – un’imitazione ok – a crescere piano piano pure io per poi dargli dentro dopo 20 esatte parole:

“Beh, metafora dell’Italia – dico ‘n sordina, preciso -, d’un paese destinato al declino, con Roma – girata bellissima, per carità (sennò perché il titolo), – che poi in verità è ‘na pattumiera, è solo ‘na cloaca pure un po’ fine ma inzomma, lo vogliamo dire CAZZO, è come ‘N GRAN BEL BUCIO DE CULO TUTTO PROFUMATO – so’ cavernosissimo – co’ tanto de mignotte, ruffiani, pretacci (e nani!!) CHE CE CAMMINAMO TUTTI S-O-P-R-A !!!!”

[Ok, non sarò Augusto o Lello ecc, ma il romanesco lo mastico, mia nonna era di via Garibaldi]

The Great Beauty by

Altra pausa. Si beve. Il calore de ste Ceres comincia a impregnacce.

Lello, lo vedo, è un poco ‘allertato’.

Poi, una lievissima sfumatura di complicità (divertita?), Lello dice:

“Tutti sopra ‘sto bucio de culo”

“Tutti sopra ‘sto bucio de culo. Confermo” (mi guardo le unghie pure io)

“Che poi è profumato”
[non capisco se mi piglia per il culo; Lello è tosto, niente da dire]

“Che è profumato, riconfermo”.

C’è  qualcosa che non va. Però, provocato, sbotto come Augosto (quello a piazza de’ Renzi 15, che si incazzava continuamente – un’arrabbiatura bonaria – e Sandro il figlio – l’ho visto piccolo – è spiccicato).

“Ma dimmi un po’, a Lello, a te te piace? Vojo dì, a te te piace che Sorrentinos mostri ste zozzerie al mondo??”

Credo d’averlo beccato ‘n pieno. Errore. Ridiventa una statua.

Che soggetto, minchia, e potrebbe esse mio figlio …  :?

ψ

A ripensarci, ora che scrivo, mi salta in quel boccino (la testa) il solito carme:

[no in buzzurro ora [così tedeschi e anglosassoni erano chiamati a Roma; poi, dopo il 70, è stata la volta dei poveri piemontesi), ma carme nella lingua delle madri che la sera passeggiavano , passegg ... lasciamo perdere]

Gigante immobile e paonazzo
(e sanguigno, diciamolo, come sto pezzo di …. Bacco).

ψ

Lello, dalle infinite risorse, trasfigura, la pelle gli si chiazza, l’occhio sinistro mosso da un lieve tremito.

Allora t’ho colpito, stronzo – penso. Ma … ti sarai ‘ncazzato?

Via di Tor Pignattara anni '40 circa

Via di Tor Pignattara anni ’40 circa. Courtesy di Silvestro Gentile. Cliccare per i credits

Seconda Ceres. Lo seguo a ruota. Comincia, si direbbe, a approfondirsi una certa atmosfera che è solo de ‘ste parti … discorso lungo, da non fare ora.

[Anche perché credo che 'n ce porti a un cazzo]

Mario, homo novus
(e pallonaro)

Mario m’accompagna un bel giorno a Torpignattara.

E’ il classico chiacchierone fanfarone – niente a che vedere con gli Augusti, i Lelli -, al punto che la tragica diffusione a Roma di questo ‘tipo psicologico’ è uno dei motivi per cui molti italiani sparlano della Capitale.

Al bar, Mario mi parla di calcio, della sua vecchia Lancia vintage, delle ultime 10 partite (10!) di 4 squadre diverse. Non ci capisco molto.

Poi arriva Lello, e Mario commenta:

“Ma quello sta sempre zitto. Me sembra n’imbecille”.

[Ok, Lello-Depardieu è tranquillo – Mario non capisce un cavolo – ma già co gli occhi ti dice mille cose. Gli occhi di Mario, invece, esprimono il vuoto. Assoluto).

Dico:

“Imbecille? Errore grave, Mario mio, perché Lello, a te, te   s-e   m-a-g-n-a“.

Nonostante calchi la voce Mario se ne fotte e scrolla le spalle (co gli occhi – quasi punizione divina – riflettenti il nulla dell’anima sua).

[Che è l'anima? Non lo so, ma che Mario l'anima non ce l'abbia è l'unica cosa scientifica della storia della teologia]

Lello, antico,
laconico (e non cazzaro)

Lello invece è intelligentissimo, e, a differenza di Mario il cazzaro, ha un retroterra.

Sterminato.

Per darvi un’idea.

ψ

Da 20 anni frequenta il centro storico (“la mia famiglia è de llì: coi genitori, i nonni, i bisnonni e i trisnonni via cantando – arrivi fino a Adamo”).

Detto come una cantilena – difficile da spiegare – che è ritmata dalla ‘o’ di nonni.

ψ

Lo vedo una volta al mese, anche meno, oramai, ma so che c’è (e mi basta).

Lello è un capo, ripeto.

Mi dà la fiducia di pensare che qui in Italia tanta gente nonostante la crisi (qualcuno sta al palo purtroppo) se la cava, ai vari livelli della gradinata sociale.

Nell’arte della sopravvivenza, romani e italiani, sono professionisti, la storia è lì a dirlo.

E Lello, che il frescone Mario non capisce, Lello in realtà fa.

Un piccolo
ma fiorente commercio

Depardieu lavora, s’ingegna.

Buon marito e buon padre di due figli (non so le scappatelle), ha raggiunto la sua modesta prosperità con il commercio a costo bassissimo di cellulari e tablet, che la gente compra perché non gira più una lira.

Da qualche anno s’è fatto 2 o 3 esercizietti (stanzine, in definitiva) che visita più volte al giorno, la faccia del boss autorevole ma pensoso, quasi pensasse ad altro (e però tutto nota, tutto sa).

Esercizietti che gli so’ gestiti da 3 marocchini svegli che gli fanno da bassa manco tanto bassa manovalanza, che lo rispettano  – e che soprattutto gli vogliono bene.

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia. Gnu Free documentation License

Il Mediterraneo è una casa comune. Al commercio, si sa, non gli n’è mai fregato gnente dee fedi diverse.

Lello dunque incede nel quartiere, coi tatuaggioni il nasone la faccia (e la stazza) del Depardieu zigano.

Una figura caratteristica come non ce ne saranno più in futuro (oppure no?) Ho sentito in giro a Roma giovanissimi di altri paesi che già parlano romanesco meglio di me.

Il tradizionale tuffo di Capodanno nel Tevere dal ponte Cavour di Roma

Il tradizionale tuffo di Capodanno nel Tevere dal ponte Cavour di Roma. Tanti sono stati i personaggi famosi in questo ‘sport’, almeno dal 1870 a oggi. Click for credits

Poi insomma cazzo (la terza Ceres, inesorabile …  :twisted:  ), ma a vedé sti romani che si tuffano ancora dai ponti (no Lello), con mezza falange in meno ar medio (sì Lello cqui: na sforbiciata a 16 anni).

A vedé cioè sti tosti che s’industriano, che non aspettano tutto dallo stato – ognuno col suo stile, qui e in altre regioni del paese, spina dorsale che impedisce al corpaccione italiano d’afflosciarsi.

In altre parole, a vedé una Roma e un’Italia positive nonostante le sofferenze, che non s’avvoltolano nella nevrosi, che non si prostituiscono, che non ballano nelle terrazze chic vista Colosseo con le narici incipriate, che non scopano le minorenni ai Parioli e nemmeno le minorenni slave sulla Salaria … cazzo!

A vedé questi giovani che lottano, che imparano le lingue straniere,  che vanno ‘n culo al mondo dovunque ci sia uno stracciaccio de lavoro, e così facendo – poverini poverini, si dice! – non diventano più deboli ma più forti fanghala, che si aprono la mente e il futuro …  (Mario – che mi sta vicino, compagno di scuola a cui in fondo voglio bene, me dice: eh dai, famo notte).

Sorrentinoooos!

Neapolitan Paolo Sorrentino

Neapolitan Paolo Sorrentino. His success at the Academy Awards granted him a Roman honorary citizenship. Click or credits and to enlarge

Ok, ok, a Mario, ma la domanda, scusate, che spontanea sorge a ‘sto punto fangulo, è la seguente:

A’ Sorrentinoooos! Sarai pure Napoletano talentuoso (lo sei) ma la conosci veramente Roma? O se la conosci – non credo – non te sarai mica  ‘mbo’ incazzato perché l’ambiente del cinema romano – che è poi quello italiano – è ‘na Grande Zozzeria, cogli outsider che so outsider semper, tanto che Villaggio (pure Pupi Avati?) s’è addirittura inbestialiddoooo?

Dice Fantozzi, ineffabile, a Mediaset:

“Sordi è il simbolo della ‘Grande Cattiveria’, la cattiveria dei Romani ‘che sono veramente, e profondamente, cattivi’ “

[detto poi con lo sguardo cattivo ... chi vuole prendere per il culo]

Dice che i Romani sono 'cattivi', e che Albertone è il simbolo della Grande Cattiveria.

Pianoforte romano

Ora, a me il film de Sorrentinos piace, ma me fa pure ‘ncazzare.

Pertanto, in onore dei Lelli semper tosti e viventi (in periferia: l’hanno cacciati cogli sventramenti), residuo piccolo e coriaceo di una forza grande e suprema (la Roma grande, oramai passata).

In loro onore, dicevo, questa musica di pianoforte dedico, da romano – più fortunato e sfortunato insieme – ad altro romano.

[Mario: "Sei un cazzone". Giovanni: "pure tu, stronzo, ma ti voglio bene"]

Pianoforte romano

Riproposta pure qui (Mario: “per puro narcisismo, cojone” “Sei un fregnone – ma ciai ragione?” “Sì” “No” “Sta minchia”) :

Per te, e per tutti voi – (Gino, Sergio, Spartaco, Gianni e Samanta), oltre che pe sti napoletani a cui vojamo bene, no Mario, so nostri cugini (compagno di scuola di origine napoletana, Mario) – butto là sto pezzo de … pianoforte non decadente (me lo si permetta, Sorrentinos).

Lello, romanaccio Depardieu, always with us in his a spirit, exclaims:

“Un po’ contemporanea sta litania.

Certo, stronzo (no, scusa, Lello, scusa) ma nello spirito almeno, e nell’anima (che abbiamo simili), ci metterà in qualche modo d’accordo …

 

Roman Renaissance fountan

 

Ecco un clip de La Grande Bellezza, in tutta la sua struggente, in all its aching … beauty.

Dulcis in fundo, il napoletano Pino Daniele, cantautore e chitarrista di vena raffinata, che canta Anna Magnani e il cinema romano.

[Così ricomponemo er tutto e famo pace :-)

"Stronzi" "Frocioni" "So 'frocio ma me ne vanto" "Hai proprio ragione!"
Ma il partenopeo: "ste nutizie su A Grande Bellezza nu ssierve"
Depaardieu mostra i braccioni "a fijo de ‘na mignotta, vviè cqua" ma viene travolto da 'na stilettata partenopea colta: "ta' soreta è latrina, e m-a-t-r-e, a te, na  pumpinare jamme jamme JAAAMME!"]

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

Resources:

Provare tutto, dove si parla della ‘cugina greca’ di Roma, Νέα Πόλις
The Roman Jews (1). Are They the Most Ancient Romans Surviving?
Le coste meridionali del Mediterraneo:
Dove si parla del legame tra sponda nord e sud (araba) del Mediterraneo
e della vocazione, oltre che universale, mediterranea, della Città Eterna.

Web site di dialetto partenopeo
[
Wiki francese: "Dans la mythologie grecque, Parthénope (en grec ancien Παρθενόπης / Parthenópês, « celle qui a un visage de jeune fille », de παρθένος / parthénos, « jeune fille », en particulier « vierge ») est une des sirènes...Strabon mentionne que son temple se situait dans la ville de Néapolis (actuelle Naples), où les habitants célébraient des jeux gymniques en son honneur.]

Poi, in tema di composizioni pianistiche (di resilience e- Mario -de fanfaroni”) :

L’inno all’Euro che non cede
L’hymne à l’Euro qui ne cède pas

Roman Saturnalia. Frenzy, Banquets, Slaves and Gifts (2)

Originally posted on Man of Roma:

Temple of Saturn in Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

Saturnalian Days in Nero’s Time

Rome, 62 AD, December. Emperor Nero is ruling. The philosopher Seneca is writing a letter (num 18) to his friend Lucilius:

December est mensis
(It is the month of December)
cum maxime civitas sudat.
(when the city is in great sweat and hectic.)
Ius luxuriae publice datum est;
(The right to looseness has been officially given;)
ingenti apparatu sonant omnia [...]
(everything resounds with mightily preparations  [...])

The festival most loved by the peoples of the empire, the Saturnalia, has officially started. Excitement is growing everywhere.

The philosopher calmly sitting in his elegant tablinum is reflecting on what he and his friend should do, whether participate or not in the joy of the banquets.

Si te hic haberetur,
(If I had you here with me)
libenter tecum conferrem [...]
(I should be glad…

View original 1,075 more words

Survivals of Roman Saturnalia in Christmas, New Year and Carnival? (1)

Originally posted on Man of Roma:

Dafna asked me to write about the Roman Saturnalia, a festival in honour of Saturn.

“Inspired by Richard’s musing about Christmas – she said – I just discovered the term: ‘Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time ….’ Sounds like fun.”

So here we are Dafna, although my mind is blurred by all this saturnalian revels, starting in Italy on Dec. 24 and ending with the Epiphany, Gen. 6.

Quite a long time isn’t it.

Ma poi ecco l’Epifania
che tutte le feste si porta via.

Saturn & the Golden Age

Saturn, the Roman god of seed and sowing, very ancient according to sources, had his temple built at the foot of the Capitoline hill. It housed a wooden (later ivory) statue of the god filled with oil, holding a scythe and whose feet bound…

View original 1,297 more words

Roman Saturnalia. Frenzy, Banquets, Slaves and Gifts (2)

Temple of Saturn in Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

Saturnalian Days in Nero’s Time

Rome, 62 AD, December. Emperor Nero is ruling. The philosopher Seneca is writing a letter (num 18) to his friend Lucilius:

December est mensis
(It is the month of December)
cum maxime civitas sudat.
(when the city is in great sweat and hectic.)
Ius luxuriae publice datum est;
(The right to looseness has been officially given;)
ingenti apparatu sonant omnia [...]
(everything resounds with mightily preparations  [...])

The festival most loved by the peoples of the empire, the Saturnalia, has officially started. Excitement is growing everywhere.

The philosopher calmly sitting in his elegant tablinum is reflecting on what he and his friend should do, whether participate or not in the joy of the banquets.

Si te hic haberetur,
(If I had you here with me)
libenter tecum conferrem [...]
(I should be glad to consult you [...])
utrum nihil ex cotidiana consuetudine movendum,
(whether nothing in our daily routine should be changed,)
an, ne dissidere videremur cum publicis moribus,
(or, in order not to be out of sympathy with the ways of the public,)
et hilarius cenandum et exuendam togam
(in merrier fashion should we also dine and doff the toga)

What Is the Ritual like?

The official sacrifice held in the temple of Saturn at the Forum has probably ended. It is about to be followed by a banquet in that same place where participants will shout the auspicious salute: Io Saturnalia! (which reminds of our New Year toasts) and where things will soon turn into a heated, unruly feast.

Have a (faint?) idea of the ceremony in a ritual text written by a neo-pagan reconstructionist, Apollonius Sophistes.

Apollonius’ aim is that of performing the ceremony in real life.

ψ

Mario: “Performing it today? Are these people nuts??”

Extropian: “Possibly, but trying to re-establish forms of paganism with bits of historical accuracy is far more intriguing than any Wiccan mish-mash. Not my cup of tea in any case.”

Detail from ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ by the Victorian Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912). Click to zoom in and enter Tadema’s vision of Roman Antiquity

Banquets in Homes with Gifts

Euphoria is pervading the city. Banquets in private houses will be unruly too, as it happens every year. These private feasts need a last-minute touch to the elaborate dishes, cookies, gifts, arranging of candles (cerei) symbolising the rebirth of the sun, little puppets of paste (sigillaria), music & dance preparations there including a choice of poetic (and often scurrilous) songs.

Little texts, like our gift-tags, accompany the presents. The poet Martial who wrote a few of them in his Epigrams throws light on what is about to be exchanged:

“Writing tablets, dice, knuckle bones, money-boxes, combs, toothpicks, a hat, a hunting knife, an axe, various lamps, balls, perfumes, pipes, a pig, a sausage, a parrot, tables, cups, spoons, items of clothing, statues, masks, books, and pets.” (list compiled by Wikipedia).

Slaves’ Licence, Dresses & Wishes

Slaves will be allowed (almost) any kind of licence. A Lord of Misrule impersonating jolly Saturn will be chosen in homes by lot and will direct the fun.

By the way, isn’t jolly Saturn a bit like Santa?

[The Lord of Misrule is a common figure in Medieval Britain with a similar role, and so is le Pape des Fous or des Sots in Medieval France]

The American historian Gordon J. Laing observes:

In ancient Rome slaves were “permitted to treat their masters as if they were their social equals. Frequently indeed masters and slaves changed places and the latter were waited on by the former [...] A ‘king’ was chosen by lot, who would bid one of his ‘subjects’ dance, another sing, another carry a flute-girl on his back and so forth. In this play-king the Romans ridiculed royalty.”

The Assyrian Lucian of Samosata writes in his Saturnalia (a 2nd cent. AD satirical dialogue between Kronos-Saturn and his priest:)

“During my week [Kronos is speaking] the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside [...] this festive season, when ’tis lawful to be drunken, and slaves have licence to revile their lords.”

As in our New Year’s eve it’s time to make wishes for the year to come. Kronos asks his priest about his:

Kronus: “Make up your own mind what to pray for [...] Then, I will do my best not to disappoint you.”

Priest:
“No originality about it; the usual thing, please: wealth, plenty of gold, landed proprietorship, a train of slaves, gay soft raiment, silver, ivory, in fact everything that is worth anything. Best of Cronuses, give me some of these!”

Sansculottes, icon figure of the French revolution, wearing the liberty berets typical of ex slaves and worn during the Saturnalia to stress social equality

How will people be dressed? In a way to stress social equality.

Seneca mentioned the doffing off of the solemn toga. People in banquets will wear the synthesis, a simple dinner dress, and the pileus, the conical cap of the freedmen, a felt close-fitting beret similar to the phrygian cap which not for nothing will in later ages be adopted as a freedom icon during the French revolution (le bonnet rouge: see image above) and in the Americas.

[Further information on Saturnalia at Lacus Curtius'; in a sparkling article by Mary Beard; and in Wikipedia's Saturnalia entry]

Mixed Feelings of the Intellectuals

In front of all this frenzy the stoic Seneca is inclined to choose a middle between extremes (and he incidentally mentions the caps too):

Si te bene novi,
(If I know you well,)
nec per omnia nos similes esse pilleatae turbae voluisses
(you would have wished that we should be neither like the liberty-capped throng in all ways,)
nec per omnia dissimiles;
(not in all ways dissimilar;)
licet enim sine luxuria agere festum diem
(one may in fact enjoy holiday without excess.)

It is understandable. The man in the street will generally behave differently from the intellectuals, often (but not always) annoyed and a little blasé about all the fuss.

During the December revels occurring at his mansion “the younger Pliny- writes Mary Beard – loftily takes himself off to the attic to get on with his work (he doesn’t want to put a dampener on the slaves’ fun – but, more to the point, he doesn’t want to be disturbed by their rowdiness.)”

Catullus at Lesbia’s by Laurence Alma Tadema (1836-1912). Click to enlarge

The poet Catullus loves Saturnalia instead (“the best of days”) and so does the poet Statius who at the end of the first century AD will exclaim:

“For how many years shall this festival abide! Never shall age destroy so holy a day! While the hills of Latium remain and father Tiber, while thy Rome stands and the Capitol thou hast restored to the world, it shall continue”

[Silvae, I.6.98ff]

And in fact Saturnalia and some of its spirit will somewhat survive as we have seen and will perhaps later further see.

ψ

See part 1 on Saturnalia:

Survivals of Roman Saturnalia in Christmas, New Year and Carnival? (1)

Survivals of Roman Saturnalia in Christmas, New Year and Carnival? (1)

Dafna asked me to write about the Roman Saturnalia, a festival in honour of Saturn.

“Inspired by Richard’s musing about Christmas – she said – I just discovered the term: ‘Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time ….’ Sounds like fun.”

So here we are Dafna, although my mind is blurred by all this saturnalian revels, starting in Italy on Dec. 24 and ending with the Epiphany, Gen. 6.

Quite a long time isn’t it.

Ma poi ecco l’Epifania
che tutte le feste si porta via.

Saturn & the Golden Age

Saturn, the Roman god of seed and sowing, very ancient according to sources, had his temple built at the foot of the Capitoline hill. It housed a wooden (later ivory) statue of the god filled with oil, holding a scythe and whose feet bound with woollen threads were released only in the days of the Saturnalia – Dec. 17 onward.

The temple was rebuilt three times and today’s eight-column remnants (see the image below) represent what is left of its last remaking.

It is no coincidence, I believe, that the temple also housed what was most precious in Rome (coins, ingots etc.,) ie the city treasury or aerarium. Why?

Because to the Roman mind Saturn – who defeated by his son Jupiter had found refuge in Latium, on the Capitol – had brought to the Romans and Latins the mythical Golden Age (Aurea Aetas,) an era of bliss when men were equal, laws not necessary, spring eternal, earth spontaneously offering its blonde corn and rivers of milk and nectar marvellously flowing.

The temple of Saturn in the west end of the Roman Forum. Only the front portico with its 8 columns is now left standing. Click for attribution and to zoom in.

Words from the Past

Mario: “Wow, the Golden Age. Were men of solid gold too?”
MoR: “Possibly. Yes, if I well interpreted Lucian’s Saturnalia.”

Let us then listen to the arcane words of Ovid just to catch glimpses of it all (Metamorphoses, I, 89 & ff.)

aurea prima est aetas
(the Golden Age is first)
sponte sua sine lege fidem rectumque colebat
(which spontaneously, without laws, the true and the good nurtured)
nec supplex turba timebat iudicis ora suis, sed erant sine vindice tuti
(no crowd of suppliants fearing their judge’s face: they lived safely without protection)
mollia peragebant otia gentes
(in soft peace people spent their lives )
ver erat aeternum
(Spring was eternal)
per se dabat omnia tellus … fruges inarata ferebat
(by itself earth gave all … wheat, unmanured, bore)
flumina iam lactis, iam flumina nectaris ibant
(sometimes rivers of milk flowed, sometimes streams of nectar)


Re-enacting a Lawless Age

Now it is clear that the Saturnalia was a sort of re-enactment of such primordial, lawless age when men lived in equality and abundance of all.

During Saturnalia the rich gifts of the earth were celebrated with feasts and banquets where celebrators, heated with wine, were allowed to trans-gress unto higher (sometimes lower) states of mind which could include wild games, spirituality, esoteric acts, gambling, sexual promiscuity, exchange of gifts, and where slaves were given the broadest license which reminded the ancient rule of equality amongst men. Many similar ancient collective ceremonies (like the rites of Dionysus known in Rome as the Bacchanalia) were often referred to by the Greek term ὄργια or the Roman term orgia.

[Note that the old terms are only partially connected with the modern term 'orgy', if only for the fact that they had a religious character]

Unlike the cult of Saturn almost unknown outside Latium, Saturnalia became the most popular festival in every province of the empire relished by the people of any social condition until the triumph of Christianity.

The Christians couldn’t entirely abolish Saturnalia so they absorbed it into Christmas and this pagan festival survived also in other disguised forms as we shall see (in Italy, England, Germany, France etc.)

Let us try to better understand. A few aspects of Saturnalia may in fact sound weird to us modern people.

maschera_carnevale_venezia

Cycles and Rites of Passage

Saturnalia belonged to those rituals typical of the most ancient agricultural cultures all the over world.

Such cultures had a cyclic more than a linear view of time.

Universe, history repeated themselves in an eternal return to mythical ages in a way that the end of a cycle (light, sun, year, moon or season cycles) coincided with a new beginning; that dissolution coincided with regeneration; that chaos, lawlessness and transgression transmuted themselves into a new order where people felt renewed and ready to get back to norm.

These passages were celebrated in festivals where “such dissolution – Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini argues – we notice in the overturning of social hierarchy and in sexual promiscuity, a way to achieve fertility; we notice it in Sacaea, a festival in Babylon or in Pontus in honour of the goddess Ishtar or Anaitis which included, among the rest, a king disguised as servant; in the Zagmuk celebrated in Mesopotamia at the beginning of the year and comprising both sexual license and a symbolic dethroning of the king; in the Kronia [in Athens and Attica, MoR] and in the Roman Saturnalia [Roman Saturn and Greek Kronos sort of merged] but also in women-only festivals like the Greek Thesmophoria [in honour of Demeter] or like the Bona Dea rituals in Rome [of which a description is in our Sex and the city (of Rome) 2] where women were offered a chance to indulge in some excess in their own way.”

Traces in Modern Minds

Now I believe this whole spiritual past (plus the evelasting effects of nature changes) left deep traces in today’s minds. We still feel this deeply emotional (and sometimes distressing) end-beginning of something during the Christmas / New Year festivities, like a seismic shift that takes hold of us a bit. And at the same time we feel the family sweetness and Christian religious vibrations.

Which brings us to Christ’s birth.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus (Unconquerable Sun.) Silver, Roman artwork, 3rd century AD. From Pessinus, Asia Minor. British Museum. Click for attribution

Saturnalia, the Sun God & Christ’s Birth

Given the popularity of Saturnalia the founders of Christianity desiring to win the pagans to the new faith absorbed the Saturnalia into the celebrations of the birth of Christ.

Saturnalia started Dec. 17 and ended Dec. 25, day of the winter solstice according to the old Julian (Julius Caesar’s) calendar (12/21 according to ours, the Gregorian.)

Now, when was Christ born? No one knew exactly – although some biblical evidence suggests Spring.

It was Pope Julius I who in 350 CE chose Dec. 25 (winter solstice according to Caesar’s calendar.) Which proved a wise decision not only because of Saturnalia end date but also because in that same 12/25 the birth of Mithra / Sol Invictus, the sun god, had long been celebrated – the winter solstice being in fact the death-rebirth of the sun.

And, it must be said, the sun god in all his forms was very popular. Before it was gradually replaced by Christianity Sol Invictus was actually the official cult of the late Roman empire.


Extropian:
“According to Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ) “few Christians today realize that in the 5th century CE [so 4 centuries after the birth of Christ!] pope Leo the Great had to tell Church members to stop worshipping the sun.” “

Mario: “I read something in a forum: this “rumour that the Saturnalia generally degenerated into a big party with orgy and drinking … it’s ironic in that Christians use this day to celebrate the birth of their Saviour who came to save them from such sins.”

MoR: “Well, as I have said, we all feel – a Westerly universal feeling – like a strange conflict during these holidays: between holiness and fun, excess and good-will, religious /family feelings and pagan consumerism.”

MoR: “A conflict generated perhaps by that old compromise – eg the adaptation of Pagan rites to Christian rites – and absent probably at the times of the Saturnalia, when trans-gression and religion (trans-gression in the original sense of ‘going beyond’, from Latin trans + gradior) were not always separated as they are today. On the contrary, they at times coincided. τὰ ὄργια or orgiae, characteristic of mystery cults, were a supremely mystical & ethical experience, which is incomprehensible today, after almost two thousand years of Christianity.”

ψ

Read part 2:

Roman Saturnalia. Frenzy, Banquets, Slaves and Gifts (2)

Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (2)

Saint Agatha’s festival in Catania, Sicily. Patron Saint of Catania, her festival is one of the biggest in the world. Courtesy of Pietro Nicosia. Click to zoom in.

Italian translation

Patron Saints & Areas of Patronage

As we wrote at the end of part 1 Roman polytheism based on a “departmental idea of divinity” – ie on specific deities helping people in specific aspects of human life – seems to survive today in the veneration of saints.

Nothing provides a more vivid idea of such polytheistic survivals than the lists of patron saints and their respective areas of patronage.

Patron saints are special saints who intercede to God for us in certain life situations. They are such either by the will of the Pontiff or by tradition.

A couple of these lists (for almost-once-century-ago Spanish and Italian peasants) I had seen in Gordon J. Laing’s Survivals of Roman Religion book (1931), which is guiding us a bit in this journey.

So revealing such lists looked to me that I searched around the web for more up-to-date catalogues.

Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Today’s saints’ lists appear even richer and incredibly detailed!

(I wonder why)

San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples

Saints’ Help with Hangovers, Snakes and AIDS

Very comprehensive is the Saints.SQPN.com web site, with 7,140 saints and 3,346 areas of patronage covered (check also AmericanCatholic.org and Catholic Online.)

Here just a fraction of what you can find at SQPN.

Animals. Apart from saints protecting cities and countries [for ex. Agatha is patron saint of Catania - see the image at the posting header -; or Gennaro, of Naples, see above] there are saints protecting against dog bites (Walburga, Hubert of Liege), snakes (Paul the Apostle), bees (Ambrose of Milan, Bernard of Clairvaux); or protecting cattle (Brigid of Ireland, Nicostratus), dogs (Rocco, Vitus), poultry farmers (Brigid of Ireland), salmons (Kentigern) and even swans and whales (Hugh of Lincoln and Brendan the Navigator respectively).

Education. There are saints for teachers (Cassian of Imola, Catherine of Alexandria, Francis de Sales, Ursula, Gregory the Great) and there are saints for students (Albert the Great, Isidore of Seville, Jerome, Ursula, Thomas Aquinas).

There is even a saint for test takers (!), Joseph of Cupertino.

Health. Any health problem has its specific protectors: angina pectoris (Swithbert), arthritis (Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Colman, James the Greater, Killian, Totnan), autism (Ubaldus Baldassini), hangovers (Bibiana), headache (Acacius, Anastasius the Persian, Aurelius of Riditio, Bibiana, Hugh of Grenoble, Teresa of Avila), breast cancer (Agatha of Sicily, Aldegundis, Giles), diabetes (Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus), depression (Amabilis, Bertha of Avenay, Bibiana, Dymphna, Moloc of Mortlach), epilepsy (Alban of Mainz, Balthasar, John Chrysostom, Valentine of Rome), lunacy (Alban of Mainz, Balthasar, John Chrysostom, Vitus, Willibrord of Echternach) and so on.

The flower crowned skull of St Valentine exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Click for credits and to zoom in

There are saints for AIDS care-givers (Aloysius Gonzaga) and saints for AIDS patients (Aloysius Gonzaga, Peregrine Laziosi, Therese of Lisieux).

Family. Difficult marriages are taken care of (so many protectors, I’ll just mention Catherine of Genoa, Dorothy of Montau, Edward the Confessor, Philip Howard, Thomas More, Radegunde) and so are divorced people (Fabiola, Guntramnus, Helena). We have  saints for childless couples (Anne Line, Catherine of Genoa, Henry II, Julian the Hospitaller), for unmarried men and unmarried women, plus those who protect against the death of children, the death of fathers, of mothers, of both parents; saints against spouse abuse, incest, abortion and so forth.

If This Was Polytheism, Why Was It Tolerated?

As Ernest Renan (1823 – 1892), French philosopher and writer, once observed:

A saint’s arm bone, from the Cloisters section of the MET, NYC. Photo by Lichanos. Click on the image to reach Lichanos’ writing.

Every person “who prays to a particular saint for a cure for his horse or ox or drops a coin into the box of a miraculous chapel is in that act pagan. He is responding to the prompting of a religious feeling that is older than Christianity …” [quote from Laing's book]

If this is even partly true why the leaders of Christianity, who certainly disliked polytheism, allowed such survivals of the older religions?

Polytheism (of any kind, not only ancient Roman) was probably too ingrained a religious attitude for Christianity to be able to root it out. So certain doses of syncretism (ie combinations, compromises) were the price the founders of Christianity had probably to pay in order to Christianize the unsophisticated pagi (ie rural districts of the former empire, thence the term paganus, pagan), together with the folks in the far outposts of the Roman world or right outside it.

[See a comment by Lichanos on this point. As for pagans as rural people, the word 'heathen' in English is probably a derivative of Goth haiþi 'dwelling on the heath': see the Etymology dictionary; and German Heide indicates both 'pagan' and 'heath']

“It may be that the founders of Christianity – argues Gordon J. Laing – found that the belief of the people especially the illiterate class in these specialized spirits of minor grade was one of their greatest problems. They recognized the people’s predilection for spirits that would help in specific situations, and they realized also that the masses felt more at home with beings who, while of divine nature or associations, were not too far removed from the human level.
They were keenly interested in winning the pagans to the faith and they succeeded. But undoubtedly one element in their success was the inclusion in their system of the doctrine of the veneration of Saints.”

The Holy Right, or the hand of St. Stephen. St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. Click for attribution and for a bigger image

Veneration and Worship

Now veneration and worship are considered differently by the Church. Veneration is a lesser-degree adoration, while worship is due to God alone.

[Veneration of saints is accepted today, as far as I know, not only by the Catholic Church but also by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church and the Lutherans. Some of the saints mentioned above might belong to those churches too, hard for me to say]

Gordon J. Laing observed in 1931:

“The Church has never taught the worship of Saints [...] but whether the peasants of southern Italy and other parts of Europe distinguish with any degree of precision between veneration and worship is another question. It is not likely that they do, and for those who are looking for evidence of the continuance of the creative power of Roman religion, the beliefs of the illiterate are of as much importance as the formulated doctrines of the Church. Our subject is not survivals of paganism in the modern Church but survivals in modern times.”

Roman Pompa vs San Gennaro’s Procession

Procession of San Gennaro in Naples. Photo by Antonio Alfano

We will finish our posting with a fascinating passage by Gordon J. Laing:

“The similarity in attitude of mind of pagan and Christian devotees and the survival of the polytheistic idea in modern times may be seen in a comparison of the behavior of the people who watched the procession which preceded the circus games in ancient Rome [pompa circensis was a grand procession before the games: read a description at LacusCurtius, MoR] and that of the crowd which fills the streets of Naples today on the occasion of the festival held in May in honor of San Gennaro [Saint Januarius,] the patron saint of the city.

In the old Roman procession a conspicuous place was given to the images of the gods that were borne along in floats; and as they were carried past, pious Romans called upon the names of those whom they regarded as their special protectors.

So too at the Naples festival. In the procession referred to the images of many Saints, each of them with his own place in the affections of the Neapolitan proletariat, are carried from the Cathedral to the Church of Santa Chiara. Saints of all centuries are there, some of whom attained the dignity hundreds of years ago, while others are more recent creations. As the procession moves along, persons in the crowd call out the name of their patron Saint, and when the image of San Biagio, a sort of Christian Aesculapius with special powers in diseases of the throat, passes by, the Neapolitan mothers hold up their croupy bambini and implore a remedy.”

San Gennaro’s blood venerated by the Neapolitans

[Note. Patron saints remind also of the practice of patronage in ancient Rome (see our post on Ancient patronage and clientage,) since beyond a doubt between the believer and the saint – exactly like between patrons and clients - there is like a sort of exchange: prayers and offers in exchange of favour and protection in certain areas of life.]

ψ

Related posts:

Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (1)

Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna
Survivals of Roman Religion
From the Goddess of the Fever to Our Lady of the Fever
Ex Votos in Italian-American Devotions

The Day Paganism Yielded To Christianity. Has India Anything To Do With It?

I’m preparing 2 posts I hope will help readers to easily learn some ancient Greek and Latin but I need a few more days.

The whole thing is in fact tough and I’m a bit breathless.

Not because of the poems – they are ready (and will be in progress in any case.) It is the cultural context around them that has exhausted – and troubled me – a bit.

I’ll try to explain.

Ψ

Andreas Kluth’s Hannibal blog – a place extraordinaire I stumbled upon months ago – had once presented a fascinating metaphor possibly created by a certain Professor Phillip Cary.

“You can think – Andreas wrote – of “Western culture” as a human body:

[nums by MoR instead of stars].

1. The left leg is ancient Athens and Rome, Socrates and Aristotle;
2. the right leg is Jerusalem and the Bible, Moses and Jesus;
3. the crotch is the end of the Roman empire when the two “legs” met ;
4. the torso is the Middle Ages, when the two traditions became one [Dante, MoR];

[etc etc up to the rest of the body that can be pondered over at the Hannibal blog, *here* and *there*; MoR]

Ψ

Ok. The left leg (1) – the Classical – has been THE main topic of this blog so far.

The research around my Greek and Latin classes though caused the other leg (2) – the Judeo-Christian – to more or less pound on my head.

Ouch what a blow my dear readers!  – and later I might tell you why.

Constantine's dream of a sign from the Christian God

Mario: A blow? Why TH do you care? Just go ahead with the left leg, you always were a leftist ah ah ah!

MoR: You moron, MY problem is the ancient languages classes Mario! Now it turns that, while the classical texts are hard (leg 1), the Judeo-Christian ones (leg 2) are often that easy – Old and New Testament alike – that even a baby can read them, for reasons fascinating not the place here to discuss.

[I know there are comics, that there are web sites plus the Latin and Greek Wikipedia- which I adore. But I always prefer the best literature for language learning: ie starting with what is matchless]

Extropian: MoR is right. Wanna get into mountain climbing? Forget the Everest and start with simple (tho captivating) hills.

MoR: Ok ok Extropian, but you 2 didn’t get the MAIN point.
I’m not only facing here the daunting task of presenting the context of the greatest spiritual revolution the West ever hadthe switch from Paganism to Christianity. And btw I’m a guy who, revering the Classical as much as I do, is not exactly excited to see the DEATH of it  …

Extropian: “Num 3, the crotch?

MoR:
The crotch, yes. Problem being: there’s a lot more, and a lot earlier.

Extropian: Urghhh!
A LOT earlier??

Serapis, an Hellenistic-Egyptian god in Antiquity (since the III century BC)

MoR: Yyyeees! While trying to figure out the spiritual context of the poems, much to my horror (and fascination) did I realise that the (Judeo)-Christian leg was part of bigger – much more ancient  – streams originating from Egypt and from the East (both Middle and Far East.)

To be more precise – and in a reversed order: from Egypt, Thrace, Anatolia, Palestine (the Jews, naturally, crucial,) Mesopotamia, Persia AND India.

Mario: India??? Oh oh oh oh ….India AGAIN???

Extropian
[*getting more attentive*]

MoR: I’ll repeat it! The Greco-Romans had already encountered A LOT EARLIER that much wider oriental humus – of which the Judeo-Christian leg was just a part – much earlier I mean than when we finally get to the darn crotch – ie the switching to Christianity and soon after that cataclysm, ie the horrible end of the Roman empire.

Extropian: [*lost in reflection, eyes gleaming*] Mmmm, how MUCH earlier

MoR: 800-850 years earlier, more or less. I’ll check better but I’d bet on it.

Ψ

Long pause. Pauses are important. The sun begins to shine through the clouds folds over the eternal city  … We drink strong coffee.

Ψ

MoR: Which led me to reconsider the Judeo-Christian tradition as being NOT TOTALLY EXTRANEOUS to the Classical World (!) as I first had thought.

A kind of a BLOW, plus a troubling one because I got fascinated by it.

I told Lichanos over at his blog – his posts inspired me as for the Jewish heritage: “I feel the need of coming to terms with both traditions or legs – I said – AND, should I get back to Christianity, I will SUE you …”  :-)

Ψ

The silence in my study-room is now disturbed only by Mario che smadonna piano piano … My friends love me and they are worried. I am just excited.

This was happening yesterday in an apartment in Rome.

On another area of the planet 70 million Hindus plus 40,000 Indian politicians were /are about to gather near the banks of the Ganges. The water is cold. It is flowing to the plains directly from the Himalayas. The water is also dirty.

Indian crowds over the Ganges to purify themselves. Click for credits and to enlarge

Not that the Indians will care – about the cold or the dirtiness. All they care about – the poor and the low caste, the rich and the high caste – is this sacred water purifying them from their sins and helping them with better reincarnations.

The Kumbh Mela hindu festival might though be special this year. The convergence of the 12-yearly Kumbh Mela with the longest solar eclipse of the millennium – it is believed - could guarantee an end to the reincarnation cycle.

Note. Sin. Purified by sacred water. ‘Souls’ and ‘bodies’ separated but incessantly reuniting in a reincarnation cycle of life and death.

Ah what a marvellous introduction to what we are about to narrate!

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