Sex and the city (of Rome) – or (of Albion?). Season II. 2

Stonehenge

[Draft, incomprehensible perhaps, havin' just fun writing ]

 

Massimo: “Master, am I ready now?”

Giorgio: “Not yet”

Massimo [read about him when much younger Giorgio 'discovered' him (διδάσκαλος btw always hid his capabilities by looking naive: one among many tricks he had / has. Or was / is he really naive?] :

“One thing διδάσκαλε. Why have you skipped the ‘secret of the secrets post’? Will you mean that readers can rest also on Saturday?”

Giorgio, an inscrutable look in his eyes: “This is not important. Do you know who I really am μαθητής?”

In Britannia, oceani insula
cui Albion nomen est …

Manius like a numen from another universe was piercing the scene through the mist of his mind. Much to his surprise he became capable of ‘sensing’ the pupil (μαθητής) giving his Master (διδάσκαλος, Didaskalos) an ancient look that made Britannicus of the Papirii – seasoned soldier of Rome – shudder.

He could also perceive Massimo kneeling on one knee and uttering, gravely:

“O ancient-wisdom philosopher, o supreme mathematician & guide of my troubled life. I am so confused διδάσκαλε. It suddenly turned that …. (he looked kind of embarrassed now) it turned that I was unbeatable, Master, yesterday morning, on the A.S. Roma‘s soccer field. What the hell is going on διδάσκαλε? Doesn’t that reveal I a-m ready???”

 

Massimo being strong willed was no match at all for Giorgio, who ignored him, unemotional, expressionless.

It looked as if he had forgotten his pupil, absorbed as he was in his constant daily writing on his notebooks (he had a full collection of them …)

 A soldier quakes

In another time, another place a strong and iron-willed soldier lost his sight and began to quake as if possessed by demons [καὶ λέγουσιν Δαιμόνιον ἔχει ...] His head was exploding.

With an immense effort – due to the brutal training typical of any Roman army of any time – helped just a little bit by his three timid-but-perfectly-fit slaves (they were strictly forbidden to help: a black man, two female slave musicians) – the soldier of Rome succeeded di stendersi a terra, aspettare che il dolore finisse e poi lentamente, sollevando la testa verso la luna piena, recitare debolmente, ma fermamente, la seguente preghiera, che lo portò alla calma … all’amore divino …

Full moon rising from the ocean. Click for credits

Full moon rising from the ocean. Click for credits

 

Tu Luna,
luce feminea conlustrans cuncta terrarum,
iam nunc extremis subsiste,
et pausam pacem, Regina, tribue.

You Moon,
Who with your female light illuminate all lands,
Please help me in this time of adversity
And grant me, Queen, dulcis peace, and rest.

 

Ancora dolore e poi di nuovo calma e un senso di amore nuovamente a pervaderlo, che però in questa fase buia durava in effetti poco e quindi pregava spesso e ancora più spesso beveva (l’orrenda, densa birra dei barbari anglosassoni).

La vita era schifosa e bella, allegra e triste, lancinante e vibrante. E poi arrivavano quelle visioni, come in una nebbia, che oltre ad ossessionarlo gli facevano letteralmente scoppiare l’encefalo.

Dopo che Cinzia, l’unico vero amore della sua vita (Manius dei Papirii era monogamo, costume forse succhiato dalla poccia materna – parola etrusca – cioè dalla madre, nativa di Roma, madre romana dall’Urbs del mondo intero), da quando cioè Cinzia, beh, il dolore era stato talmente forte che – come Orazio, Virgilio Catullo (i sacri autori) e come soprattutto Cesare, il padre di tutto e facitore della potenza romana – da quando in sostanza Cinzia preferì un semplice retore a un filosofo pitagorico (lui) Manius si era dato agli amori facili con schiave e schiavi.

Altro precetto, oltre la tendenza alla monogamia, di sua madre – donna forte e santa che si concedeva pochi vizi (qualche droga bizantina, qualche massaggio persiano alle terme) – era che la ‘familia’ andava meglio se il paterfamilias era come – e qui giù con espressione ineffabile e Rasna – era come dire un tronco (raffinato termine dal double entendre, altra espressione, questa, dal patois gallico). Un tronco, cioè il pater, che teneva solo la casa eretta in piedi dando gioia a lei (double entendre) e a tutta la maison.

E l’amata sposa, virtuosa e traendo dal tronco forza, ci costruiva – si ripeté per farsi coraggio pensando a Iside – ci costruiva attorno la casa, come aveva fatto Ulisse, un Ulisse femmina (o androgino ermafrodito: concetto complesso esoterico, dai risvolti misticamente vibranti).

Infine, cherry on the pie (stava imparando l’anglosassone?) e altro precetto e aforisma (ne sentirete parecchi) di quella santa donna, tipicamente romano nella sua praticità e eticità al contempo, era che gli schiavi qualunque fosse il loro sesso dovevano innamorarsi del Pater (anzi “andavano acquistati – diceva la donna mentre pregava i Lari – proprio con questa tendenza nel loro Geist (Aenglish?), tendenza d’amore servile ma amore non the less verso il capo sommo e sacerdote supremo familiare.

“Tutto sarebbe andato meglio, better still (Aenglisc ancora dannazione!), veramente meglio” gli aveva ripetuto più volte in un latino quasi ciceroniano (era poliglotta Mutti, parlava una decina di lingue usate in giro per l’impero ivi compresi 3 dialetti gallici appresi ad Augusta Taurinorum prima del divorzio con il provinciale montanaro (suo padre, ma di prische virtù che a Roma, diciamolo pure – pensò Manius – si cercavano con la torcetta).

Precetto, diceva la dolce bella madre ricamando sonoramente sull’idea (aveva la passione della lira e della poesia, e a Torino aveva appreso l’arpa celtica da una schiava gallica con cui amava celebrare, assieme ad altre donne, il culto santo della Dea Bona: Bona, diciamolo, nozione sacra e veramente misterica (oltre che romana) per cui una donna bella a Roma era detta Bona), precetto poi che assicurava (se ne era accorto anche a Roma con il nuovo Pater di sua madre) che le casa funzionasse liscia come l’olio spalmato sul corpo bello, possente e attraente dei gladiatori.

 

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Questo Manius pensava pregando di nuovo in ginocchio la Juno della madre.

Poi scuoteva la testa e pensava:

Ma che ‘familia’ è la mia ormai? Vivo qui, intrappolato in una torre, giocattolo di questi lerci tedeschi di cui si sente il puzzo già a quattro milia passum (e che disprezzo dal profondo dell’inner Geist.)

Perché non lo uccidevano per Bacco? Ne avrebbe portato almeno una ventina con sé nell’Ade (Manius era addestrato come il pitagorico Milone) ma almeno poi avrebbe finito la sua vita fallita e svilita per gemere tra le ombre sotterranee (ancora più infelice, non importa … ma – si chiese angosciato – c’era solo l’Ade o qualcos’altro? Scacciò il pensiero con rabbia, il Magister non lo voleva ricordare poiché anche Cinzia era stata sua allieva e nel giardino della bella domus subalpina di *** si erano dati il primo, dolcissimo, profondo, bacio d’amore.”

Scese dal piano di avvistamento all’aria aperta a quelli inferiori, protetti da occhi indiscreti.

Perfetti, nel corpo e nello spirito

I suoi schiavi erano perfetti, nel corpo e nello spirito, allenati da lui come lui a sua volta era stato allenato (e iniziato) dal Magister, provinciale forse ma di una certa fama ad Augusta Taurinorum, dove viveva ancora suo padre risposatosi con una ricca vedova, di razza celtico ligure (il padre) – un romano provinciale d’altri tempi che gli aveva trasmesso valori d’altri tempi, discendete di quei galli togati del Nord ovest, al confine con la Gallia Grande e un tempo comata (ma ora totalmente romanizzata che però si ostinava scioccamente ad adorare non si sa cosa di mistico in quel bel vulcano del massiccio centrale, il Puy de Dôme, nel territorio degli Arverni, il popolo del valoroso Vercingetorix.

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Depressso, Manius Lentulus chiamato Britannicus scese i rozzi gradini con spiritualmente spossata lentezza.

Voleva una notte d’amore con uno dei servi. Gli altri due sarebbero rimasti in piedi in funzione cubicolare, attorno cioè al giaciglio (se serviva qualche bevanda, un massaggio, se serviva protezione da un attacco improvviso, giaciglio (spartano) dove il paterfamilias – con potere di vita e morte come ai bei tempi della Roma bella sacra santa – cavalcava (o veniva cavalcato, cives ormai allo sbando e senza dignitas), cavalcava, e veniva cavalcato, per tutta le santae ore della notte. Stava lasciandosi andare, lo sapeva, ma non certo gli faceva difetto il vigore, di razza romanao pura, da parte Mutti, e montanara taurina (più tosta, i romani de Roma inesorabilmente decadevano) da parte di Pater.

Ne vigore mancava ai suoi servi, atleti perfetti, come lui …

Manius era in realtà – pensò (ma qualcuno osservandolo inosservabile non era d’accordo) una nullità. Privo ormai della Venus urania si dava come logica conseguenza, quasi teorema spirituale, alla Venus carnalis.

Essere amato teneramente, rifletté con tristezza, era meglio di niente.

Anche se va da sé che non poteva amare degli animali parlanti, ma averne affetto come per un pet o puer, oh questo sì, oh veramente sì, lui lo poteva, eccome se lo poteva, perché era questa la sua familia, non un gran che – i suoi compagni di scuola, pensò, un riso amaro sulle labbra, avrebbero sghignazzato frasi scurrili (compagni in realtà sublimi, ma il sublime e lo scurrile non si fondevano forse in unità superiore, neo platonicamente?)

Platonicamente ma alla romana si intende (questa cosa dello scurrile e del sublime).

Sebbene in crisi profonda Manius Papirius Lentulus era ancora un soldato: amava la cultura greca ma solo se filtrata dall’urbs.

“Perché – l’encefalo esplodendogli, e si trovava misteriosamente, e fisicamente, di fronte ad un uditorio di Augusta – l’atto sublime dell’osanna – disse calcando la voce, la gente lo guardava attonita – alle pompae triumphales dei bei tempi, verso quei condottieri  vincitori osannati e elevati quasi a dio su terra,  andava controbilanciato, per arrivare alla mediocritas – qui la voce si fece sghignazzo possente mistico -  con i l-a-z-z-i della soldatesca!!”

Il pubblico sobrio della città di Torino era esterrefatto.

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Sublime e scurrile, ripeté debolmente.

Giunto nella stanza principale prese la mano di uno dei suoi schiavi.

Il buio del locale appena illuminato da una torcia non fece distinguere se la mano presa con tenerezza (la stessa che provava per i i cani e gli esseri inferiori della natura) fosse di pelle bianca o nera ….

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Related posts (see also links above) :

Sex and the city (of Rome). Season II. 1

You may like Sex and The city (of Rome.) Season I:

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

Sex and the city (of Rome) 3
Sex and the city (of Rome) 4
Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion

Also:

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

Silvestri, Berlusconi and the Emperor Tiberius

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

Household altar in Herculaneum, Italy. Click for attribution and to enlarge

“Everything is Full of Gods”

Sledpress has mentioned Greek Heraclitus who stated that “everything is full of gods.”

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Pandemonism (or animism, see below), common to both Indo-Europeans and non Indo-Europeans, was fundamental also in the original Roman religion.

We have seen in our last writing how the Romans invoked the goddess of Fever, Febris, in order to be saved from malaria. They believed that fever itself (febris in Latin) was (or housed) a power that could therefore be invoked in order to escape death.

Deeply en-rooted in the rural areas such animistic polytheism never faded when the Romans met other folks and cultures and their religion became more complex. It was spread to the lands controlled by Rome (mixing with other forms of animism / polytheism) and it survived both the end of the Empire and the advent of Christianity – in the case of Febris we have seen how the goddess almost seamlessly became Our Lady of the Fever.

Such religious attitude went all throughout the Middle Ages thanks to the cult of saints, relics and miracles, and only from the Renaissance onwards some Christians abandoned it  – Calvinists and the Reformed churches especially, while Lutherans and Anglicans were possibly a bit more tolerant about it as far as I know.

Many Protestants engaged in a ‘war against the idols’ seeing the saints (with some right) as successors of the pagan gods.

The foot reliquary of St James, Namur, Belgium. The spirits of the saints were said to actually remain in the bodily remains.

Roman Pandemonism. A closer Look

Pandemonism – from Greek pan (πάν, all) + demon (δαίμων, spirit) – implies that there is a power or will in any object, action, idea or emotion. By worshipping such power (called numen by the Romans) man strove to bend nature to his purposes.

The religious practices regarding Roman numina were extremely complicated (and in case of an error in the ritual the ceremony had to be restarted,) the exact rites and words were known only to the pater familias, the priest of the family, a sacred entity, and handed down from father to son.

Outside the family – the state, another sacred entity – the rites and the words (regarding public, non domestic numina this time) were known originally to the kings and their priests only and later to the pontifices and other colleges of priests. They also were passed on from generation to generation and became immutable.

Speaking generally of the Roman numina R. H. Barrow [The Romans, Penguin 1949; the preceding paragraph owes something to him] observes that many household gods “have passed into the languages of Europe: Vesta, the spirit of the hearth-fire; the Penates, the preservers of the store-cupboard; the Lares, the guardians of the house. But there were many others.”

‘Many others’ is a bit of an understatement. They were in the hundreds and concerned every aspect of human life: household (there including every part of the house – door, hinges, threshold etc. – with its specific guardian god,) conception, pregnancy, love relationships (very rich this Wikipedia article on Roman birth and childhood deities), all phases of a person’s life; not to mention, on a more public sphere, agriculture (the priest of Ceres for example evoked twelve spirits at the start of the sowing season,) State (with public gods more or less corresponding to domestic gods,) commerce, war and so forth.

Tutelary Spirits of Child’s Development

As for child’s developement (Gordon J. Laing), without appropriate rites to Lucina, there was no good birth. No rites to Vagitanus? No first cry of the baby. Were Cunina or Rumina neglected? No security in the cradle or no breastfeeding respectively. No rites to Cuba? No sleep for the child in bed. Or, was Fabulinus disregarded? The child didn’t talk. And, if Statanus wasn’t correctly propitiated the child didn’t stand.

Moreover:

Abeona and Adeona attended him in his first ventures from the house; as he grew to maturity Catius sharpened his wits, Sentia deepened his feeling, while Volumna stiffened his will. And so he was passed from god to god and the long line of divine relays only ended when Viduus [at the end of his life, MoR] parted body and soul.”

[Gordon J. Laing, Survivals of Roman Religion, Longmans, Green and Co., New York 1931, where I took the list of the above tutelary spirits and other information]

Roman Fortuna holding in her arms Plutus, god of wealth. Istanbul

Also Bigger Gods were Specialized

Not only such small deities were part of the Roman pandemonism but the Pantheon of medium and bigger gods as well, such as Fortuna, Diana, Juno and the like, whose cult titles and epithets are evidence of a high level of specialization.

Fortuna for example – see a Roman statue above -, a medium goddess not as big as Juno but considered very powerful by the Romans, ramified into Fortuna Virginalis (fortune of the virgins), Fortuna Privata (fortune of the private individual), Fortuna Publica (fortune of the people), Fortuna Huiusce Diei (fortune of the present day or luck right now), Fortuna Primigenia (fortune of the first-born: a huge temple in Praeneste, today’s Palestrina, still surviving – just a few km from Rome – saw parents in the thousands bringing their first-borns to Fortuna Primigenia), Fortuna Bona (or good fortune), Fortuna Mala (bad luck), Fortuna Belli (fortune in war), Fortuna Muliebris (fortune of the married women), Fortuna Virilis (luck of women with men) etc.

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Next time we will try to better understand how this “departmental idea of divinity” (to quote Gordon J. Laing) survived in the veneration of saints.

Italian translation

Related posts:

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:

Ex Votos in Italian-American Devotions

The Roman Jews (2). ‘Segregated In The Ghetto Because Of Their Own Guilt’

[see The Roman Jews (1)]

A millenary presence

There’s evidence of the millenary presence of the Jews in the city. Of the over 40 imperial Rome catacombs unveiled 6 are Jewish. At the end of the catacomb period a Jewish cemetery rose around Porta Portese. We also know of at least one synagogue in Ostia antica and of several in Trastevere.

The arch of Titus is also an indirect sign of presence. The Roman generals in triumph were usually followed by the captives in fetters, although on one arch panel we see only the head of the procession – but someone says it shows also prisoners – with the riches looted in Jerusalem, among which the seven-branched menorah.

The Menorah carved on the Arch of Titus. Detail from a copy of the original arch panel. Click for larger picture and credits

By the way, where is the splendid gold menorah gone? Oh so many speculations and legends flourished! [see Lanciani at the foot of the page]

From both Josephus and the panel we guess it was brought to Rome, then possibly kept in the Temple of Peace until the Vandals stole it in 455 AD.

One legend is told by Giggi Zanazzo (1860 -1911), our source on Roman culture written in the Roman dialect (full text):

“The candelabrum we see carved under the arch of Titus was all in gold and was brought by the ancient Romans to Rome from Jerusalem, when this city was sacked and burned by them. It is said some turmoil occurred and they came to blows when someone tried to steal it. Since they happened to pass over the Quattro Capi bridge [pons Fabricius - see below - the most ancient bridge surviving, built in 62 BC] it was thrown into the river so nobody had it and the water now is enjoying it.”

Pons Fabricius, also called Quattro Capi, is the most ancient bridge in Rome (62 BC.) It connects the Tiber Island with the Jewish ghetto. Click for credits

It was said that under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, but the Pope refused fearing that stirring up the mud would generate the plague [Lanciani.]

Did the Jews live so long with the Romans that some paganism brushed on them? Zanazzo writes that the Holy Mary was evoked in ways that remind me of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth:

“When the Jewish women are about to give birth, during the hardest labour pains, in order for their childbirth to be successful, they ask our Madonna for help. When all is finished quickly and well they get a broom and sweep the floor saying: “Fora, Maria de li Cristiani (out, Mary of the Christians).”

4th century AD. The Tiber Island with pons Fabricius leading to the left bank and the D-shaped theatre of Marcellus. Behind, Porticus Octaviae big rectangle

From the right to the left bank

Since they had arrived to Rome the Jews had mainly lived on the right bank of the Tiber, in the Transtiberine district, where the harbour was.

After Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics (from the 16th century on) and an epoch of religious fanaticism began, the Jews were forced to settle down on the left river side, in a district called rione S. Angelo [see above the area at the times of emperor Constantine; see below as it is today.]

On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a Bull that cancelled all the rights of the Jews and segregated them in a walled area, il Serraglio delli Hebrei, as it was called (i.e. the ghetto,) an unhealthy place subject to floods and too small for its inhabitants.

The Fabricius bridge leading from the Tiber island to left bank and the ghetto (rione S. Angelo) with its synagogue. Click for credits and larger pict

The ghetto: ‘Condemned for their fault’

Heavy gates were kept open only from sunrise till sunset.

The Bull Cum nimis absurdum took its name from its first words. It decreed that the Jews had to be separated from the rest ‘through their own fault’ [Latin, propria culpa]:

“Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault [e.g. having caused the death of Christ] were condemned by God to eternal slavery, have access to our society and even may live among us [...] we ordain that for the rest of time [...] all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”

The Bull encouraged the creation of walled ghettos in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

More than 3 centuries later part of the Roman ghetto was demolished after Italy’s unity in 1870. Among the disappeared places was via Rua, where the most prominent Jewish families lived.

Well, if this was a sort of main street, one has an idea of the poverty of the entire place! Look at this watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (ca 1880 .)

Tormented cohabitation

The Jewish obstinacy in keeping their own traditions increased the mistrust of the Christians. Constrained since centuries to be second rate traders, they were additionally impoverished by segregation, which added to the idea that God had punished them. All this favoured humiliation and violence.

“The men had to wear a yellow cloth (the “sciamanno”)- we read in the Wiki – and the women a yellow veil (the same colour worn by prostitutes). During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. […] Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons in front of the small church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, just outside the wall.”

We have to say that strictness in Rome was always tempered by the laxity and good-nature of its inhabitants. The yellow colour often became indistinguishable, some covert movements were possible, hate or mistrust were not seldom replaced by warm solidarity. Moreover the Roman people, popes included, needed the arts of the Jews – the astrology & medicine they had learned from the Arabs, and their trade skills.

There were never pogroms in the city, like elsewhere in Europe. And never the Jews from here were tempted by another diaspora.

In short, they were tolerated. So they remained in Rome.

The Roman Jewish ghetto in October 2004. Click to enlarge and for credits

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Note. For an in-depth analysis of the Jews’ presence in ancient Rome see the 6th chapter from the splendid Rodolfo Lanciani’s New Tales Of Old Rome (1901) [full text].

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See the previous installment:

The Roman Jews (1). Are They the Most Ancient Romans Surviving?

See also:

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews
A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (2). Is a Roman ‘Race’ Surviving?

“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”

Bathing Aphrodite and Eros. Hermitage, St Petersburg

The Roots of Cynicism

A comment by Maryann on the Roman Goddess Fortuna post had kicked off an interesting discussion.

Her grandmother from ApuliaMaryann wrote – had a deep disregard for fortune tellers “and wouldn’t even tolerate us visiting one for fun at the Italian festas. I wonder where this came from.”

I had replied that her grandmother’s behaviour probably derived from the Catholic Church’s reaction against possible survivals of Paganism.

“Italians – I argued – were highly civilized long before (9-10 centuries earlier) Christianity arrived, while many Northern Europeans entered instead civilization together with Christianity (or nearly.) This couldn’t happen without consequences. It made us a bit more pagan, them a bit more Christian.”

At this point the Commentator (Exposrip) had popped up:

“I never thought – he had observed – of the historical angle of Italians being civilized before Christianity thus making them a bit more pagan. Of course, the Romans were pagans!”
“Let me ask you : where do the Italians derive their realistic and cynical posturing? Did it begin after the fall of Rome? Did Machiavelli instil it? Was it years of foreign conquering?”

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I think Roman survivals – I had replied – exist in various regions of Europe (like England, Germany, Poland etc.) but here in our country such remnants are more marked.

Cynicism. If you ask about this within a discussion on Italian pagan survivals you probably suspect there is a connection. I am convinced there is, although it can’t be easily proved.

A long history of glories and defeats, foreign conquering, the influence of intellectuals like Machiavelli – all this must have contributed. Although Machiavelli, to me, is more like the product of a culture. He reinforced elements that were already existing.

Did these ‘elements’ develop after the fall of Rome or did they stem from the previous Greco-Roman culture, or both things? Both, in my view.

What we mean by ‘cynicism’

Let’s first see what we mean by cynicism today:

A. Cynicism is “a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.” (Oxford and Webster dictionaries).

B. Cynical is “the person who, with acts and words, shows scorn and indifference towards the ideals, or conventions, of the society he lives in.” (Dizionario Italiano Treccani).

[I may be wrong, but there's a difference between the 'Anglo-Saxon' definition (A) and the Italian one (B). To the former, values seem more like a given, while the latter appears more relativist: values are historical, not eternal]

In any case. Isn’t it possible that behaviours seen as indifferent and cynical according to certain values appear only such because partially obeying to diverse (alien) moral codes coming from the Greco-Roman antiquity?

Let us have a look at these alien codes then.

No Conflicts of Conscience

Bathing Aphrodite. Hermitage

Which is no easy task, the Greco-Roman philosophers were divided into different schools, plus the Ancients behaved differently according to the different ages.

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Thus said, I basically agree with what the British historian C. P. Rodocanachi wrote about the Athenians of the V century BC (which on the whole and to a certain extent applies to the Greco-Romans.)

“[Absence of conflicts of conscience: the Greeks were quit] of this inhibiting and agonizing struggle. Their morals were civic and not religious. Their sense of duty was directed exclusively to the city …

They knew nothing of the Christian idea of good faith, of intentions conditioning acts in such a manner that the most law-abiding citizen may feel himself a great criminal at heart…

[They] may be considered as being intrinsically amoral and this very amorality was a powerful constituent of balance of mind which they could never have attained if their conscience had been torn, as ours is, between the conflicting forces of good and evil, virtue and vice, pleasure and sin.

They could enjoy beauty, taste the delights of life without a pang of conscience. So long as they were faithful to the laws and interests of the city they had no damnation to fear, either in this world or the next.”

By intention Rodocanachi meant that just the thought of a sin is almost like committing the sin itself [these two articles - 1 and 2 - may help further.]

Not Torn Between Pleasure and Sin

Vénus de l'Esquilin or Venus Esquilina

Esquiline Venus, in all her voluptuousness, found in 1874 on the Esquiline Hill in Rome (from the Horti Lamiani possibly). Capitoline Museums, Rome. Click for credits (Flickr)

Ok. So what’s the conclusion of all this?

The conclusion equals the beginning, ie we get back to where we started.

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Rodocanachi compares the Greek and the Christian (or Protestant) attitudes. Italians definitely belong to the former, to the ‘Greek’ cultural area.

Almost any Italian would confirm that we are not that torn between virtue and vice, pleasure and sin, that we do not much fear damnation (and almost never speak of hell.)

Even if Italians captained for centuries the switch from the Pagan religion(s) to Christianity, their Christian feelings are superficial, no matter how false (or outrageous) this may sound (see note 3.)

Even among Catholics, when taking the Italians and the Irish for example, we are not that strict compared to a lot of things.

The Lewinsky scandal, President Bill Clinton’s trial and this whole Scarlet Letter atmosphere literally sent Italians rolling on the floor laughing – I hope I won’t offend somebody saying that.

The Epicurean Rome of the Renaissance

Late Renaissance Villa d'Este, Tivoli. Rome

“Your religion is not serious, you are cynical, indifferent!” was the comment by many North Europeans that travelled about Italy during the Renaissance. Their feelings were halfway between admiration and condemnation.

The splendid epicurean Rome of the Renaissance (admire above Villa d’Este) appeared often repulsive to them, one reason why the eternal city was brutally sacked by protestant troops in 1527 AD (this comment develops MoR’s peculiar approach to Italian Renaissance.)

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Truth is, our mind is like a museum, which makes us appear cynical, indifferent.

We are inclined to live the joys of life and sometimes do bad deeds without those self-punishment mechanisms that stem from breaking fundamentalist moral codes. Our flexibility (and confusion) springs from ancient mores that contribute to make us the way we are.

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In some regions of our mind, it may be liked or disliked, we are still pagan at heart.

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

PS
The ideas in this and other posts cannot be considered as demonstrated, and need further research.

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Notes.

Roman Renaissance fountan1) Quote from C. P. Rodocanachi , Athens and the Greek Miracle, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1948.

2) My answers to Maryann and Exposrip have been further processed since their questions have kept bugging my mind (original texts here.)

3) In Notebook IV of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks we read: “There is no doubt that Italian religious feelings are superficial, as there is no doubt that religion here has a character which is mainly political, of international hegemony.” So it seems that also the pre-Christian role of government of peoples still survives: Imperial Rome is resurrected into Catholic Rome. Gramsci wrote this note in a period between 1929 and 1935. He was a Marxist. We are not. His stimulating ideas went though well beyond Marxism and G. is now appreciated by Marxists and non Marxists, by left-wing and right-wing thinkers all the world over.

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Related posts:

Pre-Christian Rome lives (where this movie by Fellini grotesquely unveils aspects of papal Rome’s pagan nature)
Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna

Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion
Gods are Watching with an Envious Eye
Knowing Thyself
Man of Roma
Constitutional Happiness
by Australia Felix
The Mafia and the Italian Mind

Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna

Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste

Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in modern Palestrina (ancient Praeneste)

Italian translation

We have been talking about survivals of the Roman religion.

Of the goddess Fortuna or goddess of Luck remain at least today 1) our recurrent personification of Fortune; 2) something of the oracular function of this deity, linked to future-telling; 3) one of her emblems, the wheel, a symbol of mutability in human life.

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1. Personification. When we use phrases like “they invoked their fortune” or “the tricks of fortune” we have here a personification of something capricious which is deeply impressed in our mind and that can be traced back to the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna.

A tetradrachm from Hardrian's (76 – 138 AD) time, with Fortuna holding rudder and cornucopia

A tetradrachm (a silver coin) from Hardrian’s (76 – 138 AD) times, with Fortuna holding rudder and cornucopia. Click for credits and for both sides of the coin

2. Future-telling. Not far from Rome, in Antium and in Praeneste, were two well-known shrines of the goddess Fortuna. The Romans went there to know about their future, among the rest. At the oracle in Praeneste connected to the impressive sanctuary (see remnants on top) of Fortuna Primigenia (the fortune of a firstborn child at the moment of birth), a small boy gave oak rods to temple-goers, called sortes (lots), with words on them that revealed their future.

Similarly, we go today to the ‘fortune teller’ to get predictions about our fortune, namely our future. If these two words, fortune and future, are synonyms in this context it is also because of the ancient oracular (future-telling) role of the Roman goddess Fortune.

Wheel of Fortune in Singapore. Fair use3. The Wheel of Fortune. I think very few spectators of the Wheel of Fortune, one of the most popular TV shows ever produced, suspect they are in front of a fossil from the ancient Romans. Fortuna was in fact often represented standing on a ball or close to a wheel indicating that our future is as uncertain as the random spinning of a wheel (or the random rolling of a sphere.) She also bore a cornucopia, which symbolized abundance, and a rudder as controller of man’s destiny (see Hardrian’s tetradrachm above.)

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Only the wheel though survived and this was probably due, among the rest, to the influence of a great book, Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, an author descendant of a noble Roman family which issued emperors and consuls.

The tomb of philosopher Severinus Boetius

The tomb of Roman philosopher Severinus Boetius (early 6th cent. AD) in the crypt of the church of San Pietro in Pavia, Italy (Wikipedia: click for source)

Cicero had already mentioned the wheel but it was Boethius’ philosophical work that made the goddess Fortune and her wheel so popular in the Middle Ages (read Boethius’ text here):

I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected … she turns her wheel of chance with haughty hand … This is her sport: thus she proves her power; if in the selfsame hour one man is raised to happiness, and cast down in despair,’ tis thus she shews her might.

The Benediktbeuernm, a monastery founded in 739 AD. The Carmina Burana manuscript was there found, later set to music by Carl Orff. Written mainly in Medieval Latin; a few in Old French and Provençal; some vernacular, Latin, German & French mixed up. Click for credits and to enlarge

The Benediktbeuernm, a monastery founded in 739 AD. The Carmina Burana manuscript was there found, later set to music by Carl Orff. Written mainly in Medieval Latin; a few in Old French and Provençal; some vernacular, Latin, German & French mixed up. Click for credits and to enlarge

We’ll conclude by mentioning how in 1803 AD some mostly-in-Latin medieval poems ( 228 ) were found in the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuern.

This collection, written around 1230 and now known as Carmina Burana, satirized the Church and was created by university students at a time when Latin was the European lingua franca. Some poems are dedicated to Fortuna and her wheel.

In 1937 the German composer Carl Orff put into music some of these texts. The most famous composition is “O Fortuna“, incidentally, which opens and closes the work.

While listening you might want to read the Latin original, with an English translation (source.)

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O Fortuna / velut luna
(O Fortune like the moon)
statu variabilis
(you are changeable)
semper crescis / aut decrescis;
(ever waxing and waning;)

vita detestabilis / nunc obdurat
(hateful life first oppresses)
et tunc curat / ludo mentis aciem,
(and then soothes as the sharp mind takes it;)
egestatem, / potestatem
(poverty and power)
dissolvit ut glaciem.
(it melts them like ice.)

Sors immanis / et inanis,
(Fate monstrous and empty,)
rota tu volubilis, / status malus,
(you whirling wheel, you are malevolent,)
vana salus / semper dissolubilis,
(well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,)
obumbrata / et velata
(shadowed and veiled)
michi quoque niteris;
(you plague me too;)
nunc per ludum / dorsum nudum
(now through the game I bring my bare back)
fero tui sceleris.
(to your villainy.)

Sors salutis / et virtutis / michi nunc contraria,
(Fate is against me in health and virtue,)
est affectus / et defectus
(driven on and weighted down,)
semper in angaria.
(always enslaved.)
Hac in hora / sine mora
(So at this hour without delay)
corde pulsum tangite;
(pluck the vibrating strings;)
quod per sortem / sternit fortem,
(since Fate strikes down the strong man,)
mecum omnes plangite!
(everyone weep with me!)

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

Related posts:

An additional note on Roman Fortuna
Survivals of Roman religion

Are we Counting Cars?

Magister said one has to avoid going around with a lantern in search of the traces of the Roman and Italian civilization in the world. How mean! How sad it would be! – he remarked.

This brings to my mind a French guy I met at some friends’ house where he was staying for a brief vacation in Rome. He kept praising the beauty of the monuments and the historical importance of the city (“Ah, l’histoire, ici on voit vraiment l’histoire!”) but the couple of times we went out together he spent almost all his time counting the French cars in the Roman streets, and every time he saw one his pleasure was evident.

One aim of this blog is that of discussing all sorts of permanences of the ancient Greco-Roman world, in my country and elsewhere. We did some work on this already. For the future we are planning to talk about the only real last Roman legion left in our opinion, the French Foreign Legion (see picture below); we’ll also talk about the survivals of Roman habits and religious & non-religious traditions in Italy and Europe (ways of thinking, saints, festivals etc.), the list being long.

We’d like though to make it clear that we won’t do all this with that mean attitude we were talking about.

We’re not here for counting cars.

……

……

(are we?)

Pre-Christian Rome lives


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

In I segreti di Roma, as we said, Corrado Augias notes that “Rome among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village…”.

This ancientness of Rome is revealed by many aspects that go back to pre-Christian (or so-called Pagan) times, in spite of the fact that the city is the centre of Catholicism.

What can happen here is that the columns of a Christian church come from a temple of Venus, or that the porch of a palace built in 1909 is sustained by a buttress from Nero’s circus (Augias).

The character of the true Romans (romani di 7 generazioni, namely seven-gererations Romans, as we say) is often crass, easy-going, cynic, wise & witty: all at the same time. Great Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi (see picture below) was a pretty good specimen. This mixture smells of centuries and of moral values going well beyond the civilization of Christ.

Aldo Fabrizi. Fair use

Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi, an icon character of the eternal city

This Christian/pre-Christian mix is palpable. Federico Fellini’s films depict it in ways grotesque though eloquent (Roma, above all, but not only).

Following is Roma’s poster and the famous Catholic Church Fashion Show movie sequence from that same movie. It may appear an excessively wild scene, but it is hard to deny how it is also much revealing.

Fellini’s Roma poster. Fair use

In his novel Rome (Augias p. 11) the French writer Emile Zola wondered if Raffaello’s ideal figures didn’t after all flash the divine and desirable flesh of Venus under the chaste veil of the Virgin; or those mighty Michelangelo’s frescos didn’t after all refer to the nature of the Olympian Gods rather than that of the Hebrews’ God.

“Was indeed Rome ever Christian – Zola asks – after the primitive age of the catacombs?”.

Also the pre-Christian role of government of peoples still survives. Imperial Rome is resurrected into Catholic Rome, governess not of the nations any more but of the minds and spirits of men.

Madonna and child by Raphael, Italian High renaissance. Public domain

Madonna and child by Raphael, Italian High renaissance

Italian version
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