RSS Feed

Category Archives: United states

Where is Europe going? Wide ranging dialogues at the Man of Roma’s cafe. 1

Posted on
"Le patron de la Banque centrale européenne, Mario Draghi, a convaincu les investisseurs que les taux directeurs resteraient très bas longtemps, et que les liquidités seraient abondantes pour les banques". Crédit Photo : Sébastien SORIANO/Le Figaro. Source

“Le patron de la Banque centrale européenne, Mario Draghi, a convaincu les investisseurs que les taux directeurs resteraient très bas longtemps, et que les liquidités seraient abondantes pour les banques”. Crédit Photo : Sébastien SORIANO/Le Figaro. Source

Here is the EU / Euro / Europe debate I had promised to some friends. We will start with personal dialogues from our slice of the blogosphere.

You will however notice how ideas & feelings (passionate, at times) will soon go beyond the sphere of the particolare and reach the wider area of an equally passionate debate a. within the EU etc.; b. on the other side of the Atlantic; c. much beyond that, since all economies – China, India, Japan, the gas & oil states etc.) are interwoven.

[last minute update: France & Germany, who will win? In the world cup, I mean. 🙂 I don’t know whom to cheer, folks ]

Cheri Sabraw

Cheri the faerie (writer & educator and a lot more from the SF Bay area) will lead the dance, like Madame de Staël did with romanticism.


Cheri (original post & discussion) : “I remember visiting my grandparent’s home […] On the wall […] a framed cross-stitched message in blue which read, ” To Have a Friend, Be One.”

The souls I am privileged to call friends […] would say that I have always been too busy […]

[My sister Cindy] and I have a give and take friendship. I ask about her. She asks about me […]

This week, I have been in deep contemplation and as usually happens in times like these, my friends enter my consciousness like ethereal butterflies …

Were my grandmother […] still alive and were she to ask me whether I have […] followed the imperative on the cross-stitch, I would have to say “No, Nana. I have not.” I have simply been too busy.”


Kaytisweetlandrasmussen: “I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family, dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.”

kaytisweetlandrasmussen83: “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ” Marcel Proust
Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun. You make my life more fun.
Loved the photo of Obexers! AK.”

Cherie Ladybugg: “You know, I was just up at Tahoe for one night. What a place that engenders so many memories. I slept in my parent’s room and on the wall is that large black and white picture of you and Dr. Advice, Ron’s parents, and mom and dad. You all looked so young and happy.

kaytis…83: “Weren’t we all dashing? We thought we already knew it all. Oh how wrong we were!”


MoR: “Dear Cheri, your post has hit my heart, I find it one of the most beautiful you’ve ever written. I did not have a brother, unfortunately … I do feel the same.

Our relationship, friendship, with you, Richard, Christopher, Cyberquill, Jenny, Andreas, Thomas, Douglas, Geraldine, Paul Sunstone and others from the Web it’s been non face to face, ok, but profound (of souls, as you say) and I have neglected you since I was too busy to achieve goals in my universus introversus […]

[I btw didn’t mention those met face to face: The Commentator Italo-Canadese, Paul or Pavlos le canadien du Quebec half Greek btw, Ashish the GeekWrestler (met by my daughter in Mumbai) Devinder the Sikh from Montreal, Nomad Anju from the Bangla culture, Nita from Mumbai, one of the best journalists ever etc. etc. etc.]

Id est 3 objectives that are inter alia impossible which I’m determined none the less to attain at the cost of croaking […]

So now objective num 3 [num 1 & 2 being performing 2 of Bach’s sublime masterpieces, ndr] is of course the ‘Manius Papirius Lentulus soldier trapped in Albion’ series (I’m thinking about a sequence of smaller books being published – feuiletton-like? – one after the other, like ‘Desperate Roman Soldiers’ LOL.)

So the writing has being restarted since a while (a 3-4 hundreds draft pages in both Italian and English: 3 perhaps draft small books) and […]  no less hard than the previous two Bach goals, it being a neo-Platonic-Pythagorean Dante […] these three objectives making me live like in a closed bell – with some old school mates around and other friends, who are patient – as you say, Cherie – since I none the less neglect them […]

And for that I have neglected you, Chaeri Faerie, who have been so warm, fanciful, crystal clear as only an Hyperborean Ladybugg can be […]

As for Londoner Richard, a soul I love as much as I love yours, I have not even told him my youngest daughter is working in London as an architect / civil engineer […] hired by an English engineering company busy building a skyscraper […]

Remember my friends that I love you so much, and to me, you ALL are important [those not mentioned because too many, of course, too], and perhaps you souls from the WWW are even more important, being like Platonic souls deprived of a body, you all having a place in a heart that doesn’t forget though neglects.”

Chaerie Ladybugg: “Well Giovanni, I don’t know what to make of this long emotional comment. […] Life is a journey that we are all on, most of us doing the best we can with what we have and with who are parents were. We meet the “other,” our spouse and we engage in a relationship, often times forgetting that they, indeed, are not an extension of ourselves, but an individual, at times very different from us on their own journey too. That is the magic of the “other”.

We have friends, whether in the WWW or face to face, friends with whom we connect and at times for myriad reasons, disconnect.

I’d like to believe that both fate and free will entwine in these dances that we do […]


Richard: “Dear Roma,

I am not so naïve as to imagine that the feelings you express are for me personally. I know that you speak of the brotherhood of man generally and specifically of your love for my country and its people. That you do so despite their widespread rejection of the European Union in the recent elections to the Parliament is a measure of your sincerity.

Yes, the British do feel neglected by Europe. We feel treated unfairly, as a caricature of ourselves, that our pioneering contributions to European culture, democracy, justice, law, science, industry and peace are sidelined, misunderstood or even ridiculed. Our expectations, despite our massive sacrifices and investment in Europe over the last 300 years, and particularly over the last 100 years, bear hardly a consideration, as evidenced by the fact that the recent vote will make hardly any difference to our voice in Europe.

I myself have not lost hope in the European project, but believe that nations require their identity to be returned to enable them to be heard and to retain what is familiar to them so they may prosper together. Rightly or wrongly, there are those who reckon that some in Europe hope to win some sort of long-term cultural war through the medium of the EU, when there need be no war at all. This fear is behind the current crisis in the Ukraine.

Adaptability of form and purpose is the key to a united Europe, no less in its central organisation than in its constituent parts, and a willingness to abandon obsolete “visions” and obsessive “principle”. That headlong idée fixe has acquired a separate existence detrimental to the ideal. Real lessons can be learned from the UK and how it maintained many of the practical traditions of the constituent nations. In many ways the UK can be seen as a Scottish take-over as well as an English one. I know that we face the real possibility of Scotland’s severance, but it is a union that has lasted for 300 years, not without its difficulties, for sure, but of great mutual benefit, not only to ourselves but also to Europe and the whole world, by and large. It is significant that many true Scots who play such a large part in the running of the UK have no vote in the forthcoming referendum because they live in England. Our cultures are closely intertwined and most of us in England feel as one. I myself have Scottish antecedents on both parents’ sides and I am a Presbyterian – of a most liberal and broad-minded kind, I hasten to suggest.

Bigger is not necessarily better and if an organisation is unwieldy it is more likely to lead to unfairness, authoritarianism, disruption, rejection and, in the worst analysis, bitter conflict, than it is to peace.

MoR: [writing his novel, he needs:]

“An Invocation, before a mind journey

To my belovéd Anglo Saxon friends,
And to Chaerie dearest Faerie,
Queene of the Greatest Isle, Américà.

O Goddess, Thou, so heauenly and so bright!

Shed pls thy faire beams into our feeble eyne,
And raise, our thoughts being humble and too vile,
The argument of our afflicted style.

M. P. L(entulus) Maxumus

Jacques che beveva, ovvero “Chopin è anche francese, non solo polacco”

Posted on

Bar piazza Verdi

Mia madre ci diceva sempre che Chopin si pronunciava Chhhopin, perché il cognome, diceva, era polacco.


Incontravo Jaques, un francese ultraottantenne, signorile, alto e bello, scendendo dalla casa di un amico che abita nel quartiere dei Parioli.

Jacques era infelice e alcolizzato.

Uscivo sul fare della sera – era primavera, gli oleandri erano in fiore – e fatte poche centinaia di metri me lo trovavo seduto a un bar.

[Vedi sopra, ma ha cambiato nome, MoR]

Beveva solo o assieme a una tedesca della stessa età, i capelli composti e gli occhiali, anche lei alcolizzata.

Ora, Jacques, la pelle chiarissima e gli occhi cerulei, era un tipo straordinario.

Brigitte Bardot e Jean-Paul Belmondo

Ex giornalista di Paris Match, aveva conosciuto il jet set parigino al tempo di Yves Montand, Jean-Paul Belmondo e Brigitte Bardot. Insomma la bella vita francese degli anni ’50 ’60.


Il padre di Jacques era americano.

Mi sedevo accanto lui e parlavamo francese. Quando c’era la tedesca (colta e simpatica come lui) parlavamo in inglese.

Mi sedevo e bevevo vino rosso con Jaques. La tedesca preferiva il gin.

La salute di Jaques peggiorava ma l’anno dopo c’era ancora. Tra me e il francese era nata un’amicizia bellissima.


"Je suis tombée amoureuse de lui quand j'ai vu " à bout de souffle" pour la premiére fois". Source

“Je suis tombée amoureuse de lui quand j’ai vu ” à bout de souffle” pour la premiére fois”. Source

La moglie, una scrittrice ungherese di una certa fama, lo chiamava al telefono quando gli ultimi tempi lo portavo al mare e ci sedevamo sulla spiaggia a nord di Roma a mangiare spaghetti alle vongole e vino bianco ghiacciato di Cerveteri.

Lui le rispondeva: “Dove sono? Sono qui al mare con Giovanni, a ‘ faire et refaire le monde’ “.

Chopin. Wikimedia. Click for credits

Frederic Chopin (Thanks Wikimedia!)

Gli dico una volta di Chopin, per caso, che credevo solo polacco. Mi dice con autoironia:

“E’ anche francese”
“Non è possibile, è polacco!”

Il giorno dopo lo rivedo con un grosso pacco. Beviamo il solito vino rosso con cui si uccideva piano piano.

“Dov’è la tedesca simpatica che amava Carducci?” “Non torna più” detto con indifferenza ma Jacques non era mai indifferente.

Scarta il pacco. Era un gigantesco Larousse. Lo apre e mi legge con orgoglio infantile:

“Chopin era figlio di padre francese e di madre polacca”

[O qualcosa del genere. L’autoironia di Jacques era fantastica, viveva l’orgoglio francese e ci rideva su, non è facile da spiegare]

Ci siamo quasi piegati sotto il tavolo dalle risate. Una delle più belle serate della mia vita.


Un anno dopo – Jacques non sedeva più al bar da tempo – incrociai la moglie a Piazza Verdi, non lontano dal tavolino dove avevamo passato momenti indimenticabili.

Gli occhi della donna, intelligenti, profondi, mi espressero in un lampo verde un intensissimo, muto dolore.


[PS. In the upcoming week I will try to translate this post to English and / or to French. On va voir.]



Recovering from the brink: a tale of the two-body problem

Posted on
Men's depression occurring whn they lose their job

“Identity loss: One in seven men who lose their job will suffer six months’ depression”. Source (Daily Mail)

Does a woman’s success damage a male partner’s ego?
[You may also like this article by the Washington Post]

Tenure, She Wrote

Today’s Guest Post was contributed by Family First Research Professor.

Our story is familiar. My husband and I completed our postdocs and went on the job market together. We carefully identified universities with opportunities for us both, applied, and waited.

I had the good fortune to be recruited and choose between offers for assistant professorships at R1 universities. My husband didn’t get a single interview. I started on tenure track, while my husband applied for unemployment. The process triggered minor panic attacks for me. My husband became crippled by severe depression.

Over the past year, I have faced two challenges as a new assistant professor: building up my lab and supporting my husband’s recovery. Somehow, the latter makes the race to tenure seem like a piece of cake, or at least substantially less important.

As with any severe disease, depression upset all aspects of our lives. At the office, I…

View original post 711 more words

Picture of the Day- June 6, 2014

Posted on


Italian American Rosaria has written on Facebook today:

“To our veterans:

You were willing to pay the ultimate price to defend the principles your country stands on. We are glad you came back to your home and friends. We are glad your life was spared, so that we can hear your story, of combat, of living away from the familiar, of worrying each minute of each day if you, or your comrades were going to make it out alive, if the war was worth all the pain and resources and damages it caused.

It is that story of courage and fear and …”


I had replied in my usual dialectic-moronic way:
[paraprased, since I can’t find the original words in Facebook, MoR]:

Manius Papirius Lentulus

“Stai parlando dello sbarco in Normandia, oggi, credo. Anche io come italiano sono contento di quello sbarco anche se noi eravamo i nemici. In realtà gli italiani capirono molto prima dei tedeschi che Mussolini era diventato lo schiavo di un pazzo e fu per questo che se ne liberarono. Molti criticarono l’Italia per aver lasciato l’alleato germanico. Ma chi fu più etico, i tedeschi che obbedirono al male fino alle fine, o gli italiani, che rifiutarono il male?

Forse è un dilemma etico insolubile …[e poi un antico romano avrebbe fatto la stessa cosa dei tedeschi, ndr]”

Manius Papirius Lentulus

“Only one thing, Rosaria Williams, since the Romans are stubborn. I’ll speak in your maternal language.

Una volta nel mio blog parlai (it, eng) delle Torri Gemelle, the Twin Towers, viste dai tunisini e dagli arabi. Quacuno fu sorpreso? Non so. Ma tu dicesti:

“This post brings a new perspective to the problem of 9/11”

What is so new (I raise my voice for the sake of a discussion that will not occur, I shoot too many posts) dear Italian American woman?

For heaven’s sake, is it THAT hard to see things placing ourselves into the others’ boots?

Gli Americani pensano ai loro caduti, ok, ma perché non ai caduti (to name just a few) inglesi, canadesi, indiani, tedeschi, marocchini ecc. ? E RUSSI? The Russians? 20 milioni di morti! Non saranno loro, forse, ad aver sconfitto Hitler, mi domando? PLus, why don’t Americans care too about the deaths of the losers?  (Italians, most of the French, the Germans, the Japanese?) Because, as protestants, the losers are in hell? [changing the text altogether, MoR]

US President Barack Obama flanked by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski attends the Ceremony at Sword Beach to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Normandy. Gettyimages, click for source

US President Barack Obama flanked by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski attends the Ceremony at Sword Beach to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Normandy. Gettyimages, click for source

Speaking of Italy, my country was accepted this year in Normandy for the first time.

Natalia Maks

Commemoration of the D-Day
IMG_9266 copy

View original post

The gentle nature of friendship

Posted on

Alma Tadema 001_Small

Invocation, before a mind journey

To my belovéd Anglo Saxon friends,
And to Chaerie dearest Faerie,
Queene of the Greatest Isle, Américà.

O Goddess, Thou, so heauenly and so bright!

Shed pls thy faire beams into our feeble eyne,
And raise, our thoughts being humble and too vile,
The argument of our afflicted style.

M. P. L. M.

Toxic academic mentors

Posted on

Tenure, She Wrote

Magistri Mendaces

καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσονται ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι
in vobis erunt magistri mendaces
2 Peter 2.1


Mentors are important for a young person’s mind, in Academia and elsewhere.

Like all of us, made poorer by a fraudulent economy, a youth’s mind can be treated similarly by toxic mentors

This post is about them.

[Courtesy of drmellivora from @Tenure, She wrote]

Tenure, She Wrote

Unfortunately for potential scientists, professors don’t receive any formal training in mentoring – and a disastrous mentoring situation can derail a trainee’s career.  Although some professors go out of their way to think about mentoring (see Acclimatrix’s post), and many want to be good mentors, the truth is there are some downright awful ones out there.  So what creates a ‘toxic’ mentoring relationship?  To me, the worst relationships happen when the person in power (the mentor) takes advantage of the mentee’s work without sufficient regard for their career and mental health.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been part of a department where there wasn’t at least one professor that “everyone” knew was a toxic mentor.  Some examples include:

  • One who drags out a student’s defense date for years because of limited resources for that type of research (doesn’t want the competition)
  • One who blocks mentee publications or degrees by putting up…

View original post 1,592 more words

Ex voto. Gli italoamericani e le radici dell’antica Roma

La Chiesa di Nostra Signora del Monte Carmelo (un monte in Palestina) nella 115esima strada dell’East Harlem: fu la prima parrocchia italiana degli Stati Uniti. Il ‘culto’ di questa madonna sollevò polemiche tra il clero cattolico americano ma venne poi legittimato da Papa Leone XIII. La statua venne ‘incoronata’ nel 1904. Click for credits

English version

New York City, 17 luglio 1900

In quel giorno il New York Times scrisse:

“Little Italy […] era in pompa magna ieri, il giorno della festa di Nostra Signora del Carmine. Una folla di italiani, variamente stimata tra le 40.000 e le 75.000 persone, assediava il santuario nella Chiesa di Nostra Signora del Carmine nella 115esima strada, dalle 4 del mattino fino a tarda notte. La folla recava in offerta candele di ogni dimensione, denaro, gioielli, figure in cera e in un caso un paio di occhiali”.

Nostra Signora del Carmine esce dalla chiesa nel 2004 durante la celebrazione del centesimo anniversario della sua coronazione. Click for credits

Abbiamo scambiato delle idee qui nel blog del MoR sul tema delle feste religiose italiane e sul loro significato.

Adesso vorrei richiamare l’attenzione su quelle figure in cera. Cosa sono?

Sono per lo più ex voto anatomici, cioè “modelli di arti o organi in relazione ai quali i devoti imploravano la Madonna perché sanasse le corrispondenti parti del corpo umano” – come scrisse il NYT in un altro articolo dello stesso periodo.

Ex voto. Museo d’antropologia e etnografia, Cagliari. Click for credits

Come osserva Robert Anthony Orsi (a p. 3 del suo libro The Madonna of 115th streetFaith and community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950, Yale University Press, 1985) :

“I venditori di articoli religiosi collocavano bancarelle lungo i marciapiedi, in competizione con il commercio locale in articoli religiosi. Le bancarelle erano zeppe di copie in cera di organi interni umani e modelli di arti e teste umane. Chi era stato guarito – o sperava di essere guarito – dalla Madonna dei mal di testa o delle artriti recava nella grande processione modelli in cera degli arti e delle parti del corpo malate, ben dipinte per farle apparire più realistiche. Il fedele poteva anche acquistare statue di cera raffiguranti neonati, amuleti per scongiurare il malocchio, come ad esempio piccole corna da indossare attorno al collo o piccoli gobbi rossi, il tutto venduto assieme a santini, statue di Gesù, di Maria, dei santi, e a parti anatomiche del corpo”.

Antica Roma, 342 a.C.

Marcia è felice. Suo figlio, di 14 anni, si è appena ristabilito da un terribile incidente di strada. Le gambe fratturate sono guarite e lui adesso può camminare nuovamente. La lettiga che la trasporta viene adagiata sull’acciottolato. Marcia ne esce ed entra in una bottega di fronte all’isola Tiberina dove si trova il tempio di Esculapio, il dio della medicina e della guarigione. Marcia acquista due gambe in terracotta che di lì a poco porterà al tempio del dio, come dono sacro e simbolo di gratitudine.

Ex voto anatomici dell’antica Grecia

Marcia è un personaggio immaginario ma un vera e propria bottega-deposito risalente a più di duemila anni fa – in piena epoca repubblicana – fu rinvenuta nella primavera del 1885 durante gli scavi per la costruzione del muraglione sinistro del Tevere.

Conteneva – come scriverà l’archeologo Rodolfo Lanciani nel 1898 (L’antica Roma, cap. III p.87, Newton & Compton, 2005) “un gran numero di oggetti anatomici in terracotta dipinta, finemente modellata, e rappresentanti teste, orecchie, occhi, seni, braccia, mani, ginocchia, gambe, piedi ecc. Si trattava di ex-voto offerti alle divinità greco-romane da madri e parenti riconoscenti”.

In realtà, Lanciani aggiunge, “sembra che all’ingresso del ponte Fabricio [chiamato in seguito anche Ponte Quattro Capi, vedi immagine sotto, ndr] che conduce dal Campo Marzio all’isola vi fossero botteghe per la vendita di ex-voto di ogni genere … “

Il Pons Fabricius, chiamato Quattro Capi, rimasto intatto dai tempi dell’antica Roma. Conduce all’Isola Tiberina dove si trovava il tempio di Esculapio. Click for credits

Ex voto anatomici offerti alle divinità in segno di gratitudine o nella speranza di guarigioni erano comuni presso innumerevoli popoli antichi. Esistevano in Mesopotamia, nella Creta minoica, nell’antico Egitto ecc, ma i reperti più numerosi sono stati rinvenuti in Grecia e soprattutto nell’Italia centrale dove la maggior parte di essi risale al periodo tra il IV e il I secolo a.C.

Numerosi gli ex voto anatomici anche nelle province dell’impero romano. In Gallia, l’attuale Francia, ad esempio, essi erano numerosi nei santuari della Dea Sequana, la dea celtica della Senna.

Robert A. Orsi nel suo bel libro sulla Madonna del Carmine a New York City non fa uso del termine ‘pagano’ in riferimento alla religiosità italoamericana del periodo 1880-1950.

Egli tuttavia parla di paganesimo quando descrive la reazione dei cattolici non italiani nei confronti della religiosità italiana. Gli italiani sbarcati in America vennero infatti accusati di superficialità religiosa e di strane pratiche pagane.

“In un aspro attacco pubblicato sul The Catholic world nel 1888 – riferisce Orsi a pag. 55 del libro citato – il reverendo Bernard Lynch criticò duramente ‘il particolare tipo di condizione spirituale’ degli immigrati italiani, che si nutrivano di pellegrinaggi, santuari, santini, devozioni, ma che mancavano di qualsiasi reale comprensione della ‘grande verità della religione’ “.

Nella pagina successiva Orsi parla di “un sacerdote italiano che passò tutta la vita nell’East Harlem e nella chiesa del Carmine” e che riferì all’autore di come “egli avesse sempre saputo che il clero irlandese era contrario alle devozioni della Madonna del Carmine perché le considerava superstizioni pagane:” “Ci vedevano come africani, come gente strana. E rifiutavano tutto ciò … Eravamo sempre guardati dall’alto in basso, come se stessimo facendo qualcosa di male … “.

English original

Post di argomento simile:

“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Politeismo dell’antica Roma e venerazione dei santi (1)
Politeismo dell’antica Roma e venerazione dei santi (2)
Sopravvivenze della dea romana Fortuna

Survivals of Roman Religion
From the Goddess of the Fever to Our Lady of the Fever

Gods are Watching with an Envious Eye

Ex Votos in Italian-American Devotions

The Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on 115th street, East Harlem, the first Italian Parish in the USA. The ‘cult’ raised controversy among the US Catholic clergy but was legitimized by Pope Leo XIII. The statue was ‘crowned’ in 1904. Click for credits

Italian version

New York City, July 17 1900.

The New York Times wrote on that day:

“Little Italy […] was out in gala attire yesterday, which was the day of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A crowd of Italians estimated variously at from 40,000 to 75,000 besieged the shrine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at 115th street and Avenue A, from 4 o’clock in the morning until late at night, bringing with them as offerings candles of all sizes, money, jewellery, wax figures, and in one case a pair of spectacles.”

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel exits the church during the 2004 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the statue’s coronation. Click for credits

We exchanged ideas in this discussion at the MoR’s about the significance of Italian religious feasts.

Now I’d like to draw attention on those wax figures. What are they?

They are mostly anatomical ex votos, i.e. “models of the limbs or organs they prayed the Madonna would heal” – another NYT article reports.

Ex votos. Anthropology and Ethnography Museum, Cagliari, Italy. Click for credits

As Robert Anthony Orsi observes (at page 3 of his 1985 book “The Madonna of 115th streetFaith and community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950”) :

“Vendors of religious articles set up booths along the sidewalks, competing for business with the thriving local trade in religious goods. The booths were filled with wax replicas of internal human organs and with models of human limbs and heads. Someone who has been healed – or hoped to be healed – by the Madonna of the headaches or arthritis would carry wax models of the afflicted limbs or head, painted to make them look realistic, in the big procession. The devout could also buy little wax statues of infants. Charms to ward off the evil eye, such as little horns to wear around the neck and little red hunchbacks, were sold alongside the holy cards, statues of Jesus, Mary and the saints, and the wax body parts.”

Ancient Rome, 342 BC.

Marcia is happy. Her 14-year-old son has recovered from a terrible cart accident. His fractured legs have healed and he can walk again. The lectica carrying her is now set down. She gets out of it and enters a shop not far from the temple of Aesculapius, god of medicine and healing. She buys two terra-cotta legs that she will soon take to the temple of the god on the Tiber island, as a sacred gift expressing her gratitude.

Anatomical ex votos from ancient Greece

Marcia is fictional but a real ancient Roman shop going back more than a couple of thousand years earlier perhaps (the period of the Roman Republic) was discovered in the spring of 1885 in the foundations of the left embankment of the Tiber.

It contained – archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani wrote a few years later – “a large number of anatomical specimens in painted terra-cotta, beautifully modelled from nature, and representing heads, ears, eyes, breasts, arms, hands, knees, legs, feet, ex-votos offered by happy mothers etc.” to the Greco-Roman deities.

In fact, Lanciani adds, “it seems that at the entrance of the Fabrician bridge (ponte Quattro Capi, see image below), leading from the Campus Martius to the island [where the temple of the god was located, MoR], there were shops for the sale of ex‑votos of every description …”

Pons Fabricius, called Quattro Capi, the most ancient bridge in Rome. It leads to the Tiber Island where the temple of Aesculapius was located. Click for credits

Anatomical ex votos as offerings to a deity out of gratitude or in hope for healing were common in many ancient peoples. They existed in Mesopotamia, Minoan Crete, ancient Egypt etc. but the most numerous finds were unearthed in Greece and especially in central Italy where most of them date back from the 4th to the 1st century BC.

We also found anatomical ex votos in provinces of the Roman empire. In Gallia now France, for example, they were present in sanctuaries of Dea Sequana, the Celtic goddess of the river Seine.

Robert A. Orsi in his valuable work on NYC  Madonna of Mount Carmel does not make use of the term ‘pagan’ as for the Italian-Americans of the period 1880-1950 [I wonder why. I don’t think there is anything shameful about the traces of ancient customs. Quite the contrary]

Paganism is though mentioned when he describes the reaction of the non Italian Catholics to the Italian religiosity. Italians were accused of religious superficiality and of weird, pagan practices.

“In a bitter attack published in The Catholic world in 1888 – Orsi refers at p. 55 -, the Reverend Bernard Lynch excoriated “the peculiar kind of spiritual condition” of the Italian immigrants, fed on pilgrimages, shrines, holy cards, and ‘devotions’ “but lacking any understanding of ‘the great truth of religion’.”

On the following page Orsi mentions “an Italian priest who spent his own life in East Harlem and at Mount Carmel” and who told the author that “he always knew the Irish Clergy were against the Mount Carmel devotions, viewing them as pagan superstitions: “They thought we were Africans, that there was something weird. They didn’t accept it at all …We were always looked upon as though we were doing something wrong…”.

Related posts:

“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (1)

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

Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna

Survivals of Roman Religion
From the Goddess of the Fever to Our Lady of the Fever

Read also:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)
The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)

See also the survival, in the Italian South, of the Greek notion of the ‘envious’ gods:

Gods are Watching with an Envious Eye