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Change and Continuity in History. 2

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Click for credits

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Click for credits

(This is the conclusion of a conversation with Paul started in an earlier post)

Yes, you have continuity too in North America, Paul, your roots and languages are from here, your monuments are European inspired. But European people who crossed the ocean were mostly fleeing injustice. They needed change more than continuity, and they found new societies where history and ties were not so burdensome. This of course liberated many energies but it could also be a reason why whenever I say that the past continues in the present, you guys shake your head and say: ‘No, it’s not so relevant’.

I mean, it’s not only a shorter history, it’s this ‘New’ thing:  the ‘New’ World was erected in the name of change, I believe. When a building gets old you tear it down, while here we keep almost everything, even crap. A metaphor in some way.

History is longer and heavier here and this implies pros and cons. Some parts of this country, Italy, are probably beyond redemption for this reason (inability to modernity, corruption etc.) but allow us to be thrilled that we are walking on the same roads tread upon by Julius Caesar or Marcus Aurelius, or to be happy that our ancient Roman sewerages (like Cloaca Maxima) are still working fine.

My family has this tradition of using the Fatebenefratelli Hospital on the Tiber Island. My father had surgery there twice and my wife there delivered our two daughters. Now it turns that this was a healing place since 293 BC, when a temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing, was built. When, 600 years later, Christianity arrived the healing place was preserved intermittently and a Basilica di San Bartolomeo later built a few yards away (this saint being thence associated to healing it explains by the way the name of the famous St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.)

The Subura district, the slums of ancient Rome, was full of ‘disreputable locals and brothels’ (Wikipedia.) Today parts of it correspond to the Monti rione. Well, since antiquity until today such ‘disreputable’ locals still exist in the area (in via Dei Capocci for example) and the police mostly turns a blind eye because of its being like a tradition of the city. Of course during Fascism, when prostitution was legal, the area thrived.

Inside Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Click for credits

Inside Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Click for credits

The Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome (Saint Mary Above Minerva, see image above) and the area of the great Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (in today’s Turkey, see image at the head of the page) are interesting examples as well since they both follow a similar continuity-change pattern.

Continuity. In both places we have a succession of three deities with something in common (female gender, fertility, virginity etc.)
These deities belong to different periods and religions.

The Egyptian Isis, goddess of fertility, was followed in Rome – in that place – by the Roman Minerva (or vice versa; or they shared the area.) Minerva, a virgin goddess, was later replaced by Mary, a virgin divinity too, in the said church subsequently dedicated to her, Saint Mary Above Minerva.

Similarly, but on a much larger scale, the sanctuary in Ephesus dedicated to the Anatolian goddess Kybele, the Earth Mother, was later converted into the temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunt, child birth, virginity and fertility. The place was very famous, one of the greatest sanctuaries of Antiquity – see a 3d reconstruction at the top of the page – and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. People flocked to venerate the goddess.

Well, it is amazing how not far from that place it was later believed that there existed the last home of Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. For this reason – the marvellous temple was destroyed by a Christian mob in 401 AD – a series of pilgrimages again began with pilgrims venerating the Virgin Mary and even recently the place has been visited by three popes, who followed a pilgrimage path thousands of years old.

Kybele, Artemis, Mary. A very impressive example of continuity through change, it seems to me.


Summarizing, what I mean is that, with no break, connections run in history from antiquity to the present which are striking and, here more than in the New World, we feel that they are all around us, that they are part of our most profound identity. Which also crushes us in some way, without a doubt.

There must be reasons why we are called the ‘Old’ World: aren’t we all mummies a bit?

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

Related posts:

Change and Continuity in History. 1
On Roman, Italian and Latin Roots. Italy and the New World


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