Devouring Passions


Italian version

James Evershed Agate (1877 – 1947), British diarist and critic, once wrote:

“Now that I am finishing the damned thing I realise that diary-writing isn’t wholly good for one, that too much of it leads to living for one’s diary instead of living for the fun of living as ordinary people do.”

What is said above applies equally to blog-writing (or to writing tout court.)

Regardless of the fact that writing can be part of the fun of life, the observation is certainly appropriate, since when dealing with passions the challenge is always the right measure, and even when one sometimes (or often) wallows in them (e.g. our passions) it is good we keep this well in mind.

The ancient Romans developed the fine art of cuisine so that the delights of life were augmented, but it is undeniable that there was some gluttony in certain groups.

As for my personal life, I remember that when I was younger I stopped composing music also because it had become an obsessive pastime that basically swallowed up my other activities.

Life should be something harmonious where a single part should not devour the rest (as Benedetto Croce, master of harmony, reminds us.)

Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce (1866 – 1952), Italian philosopher

A thing like that can of course occur and the results be occasionally outstanding – as is the rare case of those geniuses who are such only because they concentrate all their potential on one single point. This kind of disharmony though hardly brings happiness.

Is the Human Mind like a Museum?

As for the human mind, I’ve often thought about the metaphor of the museum.

Our mind, one of the functions of our brain ‘and other parts of our body’ (Sledpress’ objection I found interesting,) contains and allows that we manifest the infinite traces of our past (past conceptions, language, behaviours) from Stone Age or earlier onwards. Evolution enters the equation, but we will leave it alone for now.

Whatever world region we are from, we should be concerned about probing such repository I believe, that is our roots or cultural ID.

Language is an important portion of this ID. What a great digging tool for example etymology is, ie history of words (shown a bit in our previous post, see a good on-line tool) although lots of things are there well beyond words (see points I and IV below.)


A few examples, to better understand.

(Italian-mind related, but they could hopefully work as a method example to different minds as well)

I. The Greek fear in gods’ envy, yet present in South Italy and Greece:

“Not long ago my friend Mario took me for a drive on his stupendous vintage 1960 Lancia Flavia (see image below.) Mario is from Naples, a South Italian city founded by the Greeks in the 8th cent. BCE.

On the way back I exclaimed merrily: ‘Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled as smoothly as olive oil!’

Mario snapped with a worried look: “Hush! hush! Don’t you say that!”

I well knew what he meant:

“Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down or anything bad to happen to us?” as if the mere utterance of happiness would attract ill luck or the envy from someone … Well, the envy from whom?

(read more).

The ancient classical Greeks (V cent. BCE) believed their gods lived an eternal blissful life and envied men too prosperous that dared to get close to their happiness. They then humbled and punished them. That ‘too prosperous’ means it was excess and arrogance (ὕβρις) that was basically abhorred by the Olympian gods, which made people afraid of showing their happiness, or of being arrogant. It was like a socio-religious regulation valve, plus a factor without a doubt of the mostly upper-class (tho not exclusively) marvellous ’5th cent. BC’ Greek perfect equilibrium.

Polycrates tyrant of Samos (where Pythagoras was born by the way) led a too prosperous and arrogant life. Horrible was then his death, Herodotus notes

Now, 2400 years later (!) people in Southern Italy and Greece are still afraid of expressing satisfaction when things are going WELL, lest ‘something’ might spot them and whack them.

Such a great item in their museum mind allow me to say!!

(read more)

Phrases and the Wheel related to the Roman Goddess Fortuna:

  • A personification of Goddess Fortuna (“they invoked their fortune”) seen as something capricious (“the tricks of fortune”) is deeply impressed in modern Western minds and language;
  • The wheel of fortune also used in many popular TV shows is a survival of the goddess, often represented with a wheel at her side (read more)

Spectacular remnants of the Sanctuary to the goddess Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), located just a few miles from Rome

III. When we say ‘deep in my heartor ‘she / he broke my heart’ we refer to a scientific superseded idea that the heart, and not the brain, is the seat of emotions. The Stoics saw in the heart the seat of the soul, Aristotle the seat of reason and emotion, the Roman physician Galenus the seat of emotions etc.

The Roman laughter

“Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.”
(from How To Learn Greek and Latin (2). Some Inspiration From Penates etc)

Another great mind item this laughter – I must record it some day – that belongs to the modern Roman mind, certainly not to the Greek one, modern or non modern.

. Here is a sample of such laughter. Click on these words to listen to it: Marina’s (and MoR’s) laughter.

In short, before more details if you will

The γνῶθι σεαυτόν aphorism adapted to our 'museum' concept

There’s like a huge messy archive in our head so stuffed with things that just beg to be organized a bit and come to light.

Let’s get it all out dear readers. With meditation, concentration and fertile idea-exchanging let us make that inventory my good old Mentor used to mention us when we were so young.

As for my own cultural ID, I am trying to dig a bit with the present blog.


[see in-depth details from our posts. Skip the first section - similar to the above writing - and start reading from Socrates' T-shirt big face onwards - like the one above]

Related posts:

Fighting with Grandpa’s tomes. My Parents’ Marriage & the Roman Laughter

Knowing Thyself

This is a continuation of the previous post where we have narrated three episodes each containing an example of the Greek fear in gods’ envy.

What is this envy? Well, since the Greek gods lived an eternal and blissful life they watched with an envious eye men who were too prosperous and happy, hence they humbled and punished them, hence men were afraid to express their happiness too loud, lest some envious god might spot them and hit.

The 3 episodes also showed that in modern Greece and some parts of Italy, especially in the South, people’s minds can still contain elements of the antique Greco-Roman culture. Italians do not believe in these gods any more (well, deep inside who can say that,) but there are still people here who are afraid of expressing satisfaction when something is going very well, lest ill luck might whack them (it is to be noted that the Italian coastal South was first  colonized by the Greeks – Magna Graecia – , and only later assimilated by the Romans).

Andy, an Englishman living in Milan, thus commented: “I find it strange how Italians, for all their religion, are so superstitious. And your post shows how not much has changed in all these years.”

Well, is this fear a superstition? Probably, but superstition after all is an irrational belief, so I wouldn’t oppose religion and superstition, they appearing to me to be the same (Andy agrees: see below his comment).

Moreover, superstitious or not, it is a fact that Italians were civilized long before Christianity arrived. So they are still a bit pagan at heart even though they captained the spread of the Christian religion. Hard to understand, I know, but true in my opinion.

Greek vase from South-Italian Greeks. Wikimedia

Greek vase from South-Italian Greeks. Click to enlarge and for description

Andy, together with Indian Falcon and Ashish – two other aficionados of this blog – also found incomprehensible this attitude of the Greek gods. “Is something who is so envious worth being cared for..?” wondered Falcon.

I know this envy seems only negative – I replied. Men shouldn’t be too happy since gods only should be happy: it sounds mean, no doubt (read later about these gods’ amorality). The positive thing underlying all this, however, was that it lead to a common people’s wisdom, kind of a tendency towards a moderate life (in a good sense). For the upper classes it was also a matter of style, of behaving without ostentation or vulgarity. There was some arrogance in Polycrates’ life, so he died a terrible death: this is somewhat a lesson. When Greece began its decadence someone wrote: “modesty and virtue are now powerless, lawlessness rules and men do not strive any more against gods’ envy”.

In other words, this fear of gods’ envy was like a regulation valve. It helped, together with other elements, to develop temperance and the good style in life. Classical Greece (V cent. BC) was a civilization based on an admirable equilibrium. The golden mean. A concept we frequently get back to.

Another point is that the Greek ancient gods were amoral and whimsical. They didn’t care much about good and evil. Weirdly enough this had a good effect as well. Men didn’t think gods were morally perfect while men full of iniquity, and, since they could not count on these whimsical gods’ help, men had to make their own destiny and had to believe in their worth. Western man thinks instead that he is corrupted and a sinner from the beginning (original sin) and that only God can save him.

[The Renaissance only by developing humanism and humanitas has mitigated this belief by stressing both man's worth and freedom. Incidentally, the Renaissance origin, Italy, and its deep meaning, the rediscovery of the classical world, are not fortuitous, how can they be, they representing like survivals of the ancient world popping up again not only as mere imitation]

Finally Greek men were not striving to be good just because they expected a reward from god(s) or feared their punishment. Given such unpredictable gods, when men were good they were such because they really wanted to, not for any other external reason.

Human Mind like a Museum

As a conclusion, we’ll expand a bit something we said about our country. There are areas of the Italian South which are still developing and which contain more than elsewhere precious elements of our ancient culture. In short, they are like a museum.

I would add that every man’s mind is like a museum, no matter where he comes from, since it contains almost infinite traces of past conceptions, from Stone Age onwards, though without an inventory. This Magister said many years ago. He said we should make such an inventory. To criticise our mind – he explained – is to make such an inventory.

Knowing thyself, a Socratic principle, seems therefore still valid today.

Sex and the City (of Rome). 3

Borghese Hermaphroditus, Louvre. Fair use

Italian version

So far we have wandered about Roman sexuality trying to understand 1) how remote it is from contemporary sexuality and 2) why everything has radically changed in the West since those times.

The first question seems clear. The Romans were very different and fancifully enjoyed pleasures and sex even though they tried not to be dominated by them (see our earlier post on ancient teachings.)

How different they were finds further evidence in statues like the famous Borghese Hermaphroditus shown above and kept at the Louvre Museum in Paris, especially when we think that these statues were very common in the Greco-Roman world. A hermaphroditus is actually a transsexual.

Can you imagine today a VIP’s living room offering the view of a marble transsexual to guests? Well, apart from a few eccentric artistic milieus, I think even open-minded people would be a bit puzzled, wouldn’t they.

The second question is more difficult. I believe that the Christian religion bears some responsibility, although I acknowledge that sexual pleasure & love are tremendous forces to the extent that they can be a social problem to be handled no matter the culture or epoch we live in.

As the Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater put it, we like sex too much, it therefore being potentially dangerous and unproductive, with every society trying to regulate it in a way or another.

Puritanism in its broad meaning, however, (eg loving only what is not pleasurable,) is to be condemned in my view even if it can push us to extremely hard work (puritanism was seen, no need to remind it, as a factor of development in areas of the United States according to Max Weber’s theories – if my memory is not faltering.)


As always it is a matter of right measure. The Romans achieved great things (like the Anglo-Saxons did) and worked hard to attain them but lived pleasantly and were (mostly) not puritanical (in the early Republic they were.)

Therefore it is not by chance the Latin folks originated from them (Italy, France, Portugal, Spain etc.) tend to savour life with taste, refinement and joy, this incidentally also being a reason why the Italian and the French ways of life are getting attractive and represent today a school (not the only one) of savoir vivre in the West.

Thing being Latin folks are more or less taught since they were babies to cultivate beauty and all it implies.

It is so simple,
as simple and beautiful
as a Greek temple.

Their ancestors in fact, our Ancient Romans, didn’t just eat (as many Anglo-Saxons do, though progress is evident): they invented a highly refined culinary art. Equally, they didn’t just reproduce themselves (as many Christian fanatics do): they invented forms of refined eroticism which allowed them to live a fuller life.

Is it wrong? Is it right?

Should beauty in all its forms be a main part of our life?

A full answer is more coomplicated than it seems, but I definitely think it is right.

Yes, I conclusively think it is right, my sweet readers. Oh I really don’t have many doubts about that.


Related posts:

Sex and the city (of Rome) 1
Sex and the city (of Rome) 2

Sex and the city (of Rome) 4
Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion.

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)


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