Pleasure in Craft. The Germans

Germany. Cologne Cathedral. Creative Commons License

The Germans like to do things well and feel pleasure in their craft. It comes out in everything they do. They are far away from the utilitarian attitude typical of the Anglo-Saxon, who works hard but most of the time has practical goals in mind, money and commerce being not seldom among them.

We will not mention the somewhat revealing episode (I do hope I recall well) of Heinrich Heine – one of the greatest German Romantic poets – and his totally puzzled reaction the first time he visited London in the first half of the 19th century, such a great city London (at that time the more powerful place in the world) though in his view an exclusively trade-oriented centre, which kind of disgusted him.

Neither we want to get much into the concept that concentrating so often on practical stuff only, while it can surely provide tremendous intervention power (it really does) it can nonetheless narrow human experience, which presents a much richer potential.

Pretty nice opposition, the German and the British, providing such a complicated insight on the German soul of Europe (not only the German soul, but I do not want to be repetitive). An opposition that has undone Europe. Well, ok, today we won’t plunge into that.

Here just 3 examples that can illustrate what we mean about the Germans.

Computer Bild Logo

I. Minimum ex. ComputerBild, a PC magazine also translated for the Italian market. Inexpensive (only 1.5 Euros here,) highly reliable and rich with meticulous analyses, a small instance of handicraft devotion in a market, the publishing market, where garbage is increasingly dominating.

A 1999 Porsche 996 Carrera Cabriolet. Public Domain

II & III. Maximum exs. Cars made in Germany (above a 1999 Porsche 996 Carrera Cabriolet, picture taken from here) or the outstanding Deutsches Museum in Munich, Bavaria (Museum of Masterpieces in Science and Technology).

As for the third example, apart from the term Museum of masterpieces that already implies a lot, at the DM practically everything – from small-scale models to entire huge reconstructions (i.e. reconstructions of underground coal mines and all the technology involved) – has been fondly manufactured in touching laboratories where artisans, some of them advanced in age, work(ed) with so much devotion and amore. Of course, models are one thing, real machinery – small and enormous aeroplanes, entire ships etc. – another totally (and impressive) thing at the Deutsches Museum.

Deutsches Museum. Germany. Munich

Well, what is incredible here is that almost any kind of machine, plus theoretical (and factual) models so various, plus tons of other astonishing stuff can be watched, analysed (and admired) in this awe-inspiring Institution, one of the best places in Europe for Science and Technology (maybe in the world? Well, American Science Museums and Science centres are pretty impressive too, but I am not capable of any useful comparison.)

Here, S&T are obviously seen as potent tools capable of diminishing hunger, making life easier etc. This of course is so important, do not misunderstand me. Nonetheless, S&T are also seen with a work-of-art approach involving the above-mentioned devotional attitude, which is a totally different thing. Yes, it is a totally different thing, I have little doubts about it.

It is this quality, among others, this pleasure of doing everything so well, that finally makes the Germans excellent engineers and, I would say, outstanding constructors of no matter what.

Two associative examples, if you please:

1) they are constructors of absolutely breathtakingly complex musical structures (where minds not well equipped can easily get lost, or bored, which is exactly the same thing.)
2) They are constructors of equally breathtakingly complex and sumptuous philosophical palaces, the deepest in the West (where one gets even more easily lost unfortunately.)

So, what the hell is their secret then? I do not know, why the hell do you think I know. Well ok, among other virtues, I might guess they are endowed with patience, calm and inflexible perseverance. Plus this great capacity of toiling (and suffering) in silence, an imprint of true force and indubitable courage.

PS
I wonder why India has always attracted me, though probably it is too late to seriously delve into that much diverse and impenetrable depth. The depth you find in the beautiful eyes of many Indian women, both terribly sweet and unfathomable, where I could really (and hopelessly) lose my mind…

Aishwarya Rai. Bollywood star. Fair use

The Neapolitans & the Quiet Shoemaker

The Italian musicologist Massimo Mila was from Turin (northern Italy, under the Alps) and adhered to the philosophical school founded by the Neapolitan Benedetto Croce. This school engendered a large number of solid intellectuals and dominated the Italian intellectual scene for more than half a century: Piero Gobetti, Antonio Gramsci, Nicola Abbagnano, Attilio Momigliano, Massimo Mila, Giulio Confalonieri ecc. this list being very long. Giovanni Gentile, another influent Italian philosopher of that period was instead Croce’s peer, and Sicilian.

[I told you the Neapolitan Greek cousins of Rome were full of surprises: wonder why they had excellent philosophers and why southern-Italy thinkers like Croce (and Gentile) had this special connection with the Germans.]

Mila, in his inspired Breve storia della musica (Einaudi 1963 p. 144,) writes about Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest Western composer in my opinion:

“His immense musical production was put together with assiduous, methodical, quiet work, carried out with the scrupulous care of an artisan and conceived, without any pause, as service of God. Without any pause since, had Bach been a shoemaker, he would have made a boundless number of shoes to the great glory of God, all carefully crafted and finished off with scrupulous care”.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Discussion with readers

Very interesting comments (in my opinion) have been made on this post on the Germans. If you click down on “comments” you’ll follow holistic discussions among two lovely Indians and Man of Roma. Ashish especially, a young gifted man, and Poonam, a woman who talks little but whose words have weight.

Discussion about what?

Well, about: Bollywood, India, Europe, America, the UK, WW1, WW2, Europe’s decline, German tremendous virtues, Indian women’s eyes, China, Cindia, Great Britain’s awesome success, highly refined & beloved France, Hitler’s folly and death in a bunker, Hitler’s perverted sadism, Hitler’s evil psychological seducing powers, German tragedy, Italian Comedy, Mussolini and Fascism. Mussolini, his balls & his petty calculations, comparisons among the British the Germans the Russians the Romans (of course,) the French, the Spaniards. Plus Elisabeth I, Shakespeare & the Spanish Armada defeat, Russia invading Germany thirsty for blood, Tolstoy’s War and Piece greatness, Napoleon, the Brits’ greatness in some ways similar to the Romans’ greatness, the UK as Europe’s trojan horse, and much much more.

One friend of mine just said: “This is crazy!”

I provided no answer.

UNESCO World Heritage LIMES logo

PS
Let us first enjoy this J.S. Bach’s Toccata und Fuge BWV 565 played by Hans-Andre Stamm on the famous Trost organ in Waltershausen, Germany (have a look here). It is a very famous piece of music and I’d prefer other ones by Bach. But it is good for starting to appreciate a totally new spiritual world of sounds. Most of the time Toccatas are not as deep as Fuges.
Up to you to guess which is which.

Let us finally compare the majestic piece linked above with this electric-guitar improvisation by Lonn, a refined French man and guitarist of Towersound French band. He’s improvising on the above Toccata only, though improvisations being tricky, up to you to figure out if he sticks to the Toccata only.

Two last things. A. I met this French band just now on YouTube, so I do not know their value (the impro seeming to me decent enough though, and the French accent of the player absolutely delightful). B. Purists to me are morons. They absolutely have no home in my virtual Neverland.

Italian version

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow

Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Italian translation

“He felt alive with the thrill of the fight”: it is a typical discharge of adrenaline and the English expression “thrill of the fight” well depicts this sensation of feeling alive. Stress can in fact be one of the joys of life in that it can make us feel terribly vital.

A similar feeling can be experienced before (and while) facing an audience, something teachers and lecturers (or musicians and actors) know very well.

“Adrenaline (Epinephrine) is a fight or flight hormone which is released from the adrenal glands when danger threatens or in an emergency. When secreted into the bloodstream, it rapidly prepares the body for action in emergency situations…” (Wikipedia).

Adrenaline

Talking again of fight (more than flight) I have always fantasised about how Julius Caesar might have felt at nearly 50, while, often at the head of his soldiers, he was attacking the fierce and brave Gallic tribes and actually conquering Gaul, a region a bit larger than modern France, comprising “Belgium, the German lands west of the Rhine, southern Holland, and much of Switzerland”.

I am sure he felt this tremendous thrill who made him like a young man in his twenties, hormones being highly effective drugs (as any teenager well knows.)

Caesar had greatness in all he did (see one of his busts above) no matter what we can think about him.

Even his most exciting literary work, De Bello Gallico

“is a genuine historical treasure. Rarely are we fortunate enough to have historical accounts written by eyewitnesses. Caesar was not only an eyewitness, but the lead player. It’s as though we had accounts of Alexander’s campaigns written by Alexander himself. Or Charlemagne‘s life in his own words. And, not only is it a first-hand account, but it is brilliantly written. Caesar’s commentaries, whether of the Gallic campaigns or of the Civil War that followed, are considered masterpieces of Latin prose. The writing is concise and straightforward. Caesar’s writings are still used today to teach Latin.”
[quote from the Amazon web site]

Let me just add that Caesar’s words were clear and ordinate and comprehensible”. I mean, they were as crystal-clear as his rational mind and conduct were, probably the best specimen of Roman rationality ever appeared, different from Greek rationality: the Greeks taught the world to think more efficiently, but strangely enough they were much less rational than one might think.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

I will finish this post with the tragic picture of the sad surrender to Caesar of the Gallic hero Vercingetorix, by the French painter Lionel-Noel Royer (1852-1926).

Vercingetorix tried to collect sparse Gallic tribes in a fierce and desperate effort to both unify Gaul and to escape from the yoke of a technologically-superior, more civilized (and disciplined) superpower. To be noted that the Romans, in the painting, look barbarous and stupid, while Vercingetorix appears elegant and civilized, which seems typical of 19th century nationalism.

Vercingetorix though proved to have been an extremely noble knight and soul.

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. Public Domain image

Caesar had reasons for conquering Gaul that cannot be discussed here (see a list of related posts below).

What we can say, this tragedy having brought France into existence, we admit we enthusiastically adore the final result but we cannot forget all the sorrow and the atrocious price paid: 1 million people killed (according to Plutarch) – probably 1 out of 5 Gauls -, another million enslaved, 300 tribes subjugated and 800 cities destroyed (Plutarch;) last but not least, the quasi annihilation of the Gallic culture, to which we here pay our humble tribute.

ψ

Note 1. The terms Gaul (Latin: Gallia, thence Gallus) and Celt (Celtus, Κέλτης) stem more or less from the same root. I have always thought – a personal opinion – that Galli is possibly how the Romans mispronounced the Greek term Κέλται, although they also used the terms Celti or Celtae preferred by the Greeks and probably derived from a native Celtic name.

The discussion on these words (and other Celtic stuff) is in truth immense and can provide an idea of how the descendants of the Celti are trying to fathom the mysteries of a culture almost totally wiped out by the Romans and other nations.

Waterloo Helmet

Why the Celtic heritage – not only in France – left so scanty traces? French (hence ‘Gallic’) Braudel is blunt: when a culture is erased by another culture, it means it was not so great in (relative) comparison [see some long comments on this topic in French].

Reversely, it is not by chance that the Romans deeply shaped the North West areas of their empire (eg Western Europe) while they less affected the East (and South) regions of it.

Additional infos on both the Celti and on the etymology of the term can be found in the Wikipedia, here and here.

Note 2.
In Book 5, Chapter 44, de Bello Gallico “notably mentions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman centurions of the 11th Legion. Vorenus and Pullo are dramatized as main characters in the 2005 HBO/BBC original television series Rome, a fictionalized account of Caesar’s rise and fall” (Wikipedia).

ψ

Related posts:

Vercingétorix, le dernier roi des Gaules

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When West / North Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
[at the foot of this post three other installments on the same theme are linked]

Permanences. Rome and Carthage
France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)


Ghosts in Asia

Ghost. Fair use

I know. It was time for Sex and the City of Rome part 2. I haven’t got time though because my method post has been too long to write. I cannot live inside a blog all day long. So I will postpone SEX SEX SEX though you weirdos pls don’t worry. Sex will arrive soon, no doubt about that. It will probably be serious sometimes a bit (I’m not here to write a porn site) but it surely will also be erotic. Don’t worry then you pervs, and stay tuned.. 😉

I was lucky enough to be saved in extremis by this e-mail exchange which happened not long ago. This Indonesian ex student of mine wrote me this peculiar letter. She is of Malaysian-Chinese descent. Here’s what she said:

“I just quarrelled with her again, because of her phone call. She calls me every day to check if I get back home on time. I got angry and we started to quarrel. I asked her: why do you always call me lately? She said she just missed me. But I told her it was an excuse, it was because of one of her bad dreams about ghosts. And I asked her: did you perceive there is a ghost alive at my home? My mother did not say anything…”

“Another time she firmly suggested me to stay at home after I had just informed her I wanted to take a 3-days holiday to have some break from job stress. She objected. I told her: do you want me to become crazy? Then I hang up the phone abruptly”.

“You know, they believe so much in ghosts in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. She thinks I am protected at home because of these Buddha’s little statues”.

I replied to her:

“Dear ***. I hope you do not believe in all this silly stuff. I have something to tell you. A guy from our Roman rione had a friend, his best friend – he told me. When they were very young they promised to each other to come visit which of the two was still alive if one of them died first. Anyway, it was like a game, but not so much after all, since they were both actually very determined, if anything like that happened. I mean, the one who’d die earlier would really try to visit his still-alive friend if he happened to die first.”

“Well, guess what. Hazard (or Fortune) decreed that actually this guy’s best friend had a terrible accident and died. So the poor fellow was totally scared to death because he KNEW that, if ghosts really existed, his best friend would definitely come visit him.

He could not sleep for MONTHS, you can well imagine.

But his friend never showed up.”

Italian version

Method and Encounter with Magister

Plato by Raphael. Public domain

Dialectics 1.
Dialogue Within One’s Mind

The method of this blog is finding free inspiration in the technique of dialectics (διαλεκτική ) possibly invented by Socrates and Plato something like 2,400 years ago.

[2014 update : much earlier, and not only in the West; see Indian dialetic]

As far as we know dialectics is primarily based on thought discussing with itself in an effort to reach constantly better conceptions, such inner dialogue being though not obvious here since what readers actually get is just a sequence of apparently unrelated writings.

The point is our posts are connected by mental links, and writings and ideas within them bounce on one another in quick or lazy succession, thus answering, contradicting, integrating one another and now and then considering previous-post themes from different angles or even entirely diverse views.

What’s more, in the context of one single post, questions and answers or different opinions can at times coexist, this conflict/dialogue being actually the core of ancient dialectics.

A further layer of complexity – as we havesaid before – is provided by the delectable game of free associations, which, pleasant or not, is part of our inborn cognitive style.

Risk of Bewitching Chaos

Thought in progress, we believe, is a better self-improvement tool than finished and sedentary conclusions. The risk here is chaos, or irrationality. We hope though to attain some consistency:

a. because of the nature of dialectics itself, tending from heterogeneity towards unity (see Dialectics 3);

b
.
because our ideas are not thrown down at random, links among them being stimulated by inner themes we have been meditating in the years and presumably of biographical origin;

c
.
because almost all our interests have come (though changing over time) from an sudden germination.

We are referring to a crucial encounter that took place in Rome, 35 years ago (see Dialectics 3).

Dialectics 2.
Dialogue Among Minds

Now, reason discussing with itself doesn’t exclude dialogue with others, since dialectic sees in fertile dialogue among thinking people the highest expression of cognitive exploration.

We have conversed with people of any cultural level, even a few top brains, their ideas interacting with ours in many ways. Plus we digest tons of debates in the media.

In any case, however we put it, we cannot have what Socrates or Plato had. Being not big shots of thought we cannot invite to dinner the great intellectuals of our time on a weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis. What an awful stress it would be (we are reserved,) although, let’s be frank, it’s not that they wouldn’t accept, it’s just they wouldn’t even notice we are inviting them.

[And how silly to even think of having what Socrates or Plato had. Today even top think-tank people cannot enjoy those sublime, holistic symposiums, for the simple reason that knowledge today is too massive and appallingly – though necessarily – specialized.]

Virtual Symposium

So, not being able to recreate a circle with big intellectuals, this virtual Symposiumis what is left to us. It involves a certain number of ‘virtual guests.’

A virtual guest is a quotation or just a reference to a book passage. This is exactly what we mean by a virtual guest. The ideas of an author, dead or alive, participate in the discussion thanks to the greatest invention of all time: Writing.

Read how this young (and uncouth) Roman helps me explain this “Virtual Symposium & Writing” concept. We locked horns a bit, like males sometimes do, but the fight was worthwhile. Yes, we think it was worthwhile.

Locking Horns. Fair use

Quotes and Text Authority

“What are you talking about – argues Arthur Schopenhauer – quoting is copying other people’s ideas”.

Well, it can be, but my quoting is different. First of all it is the feedback and interaction with a writer’s ideas, as I said. I don’t see any copying in confrontation of ideas towards a richer knowledge.

There’s another thing though, personal this time. Take Braudel: “Great civilisation never die”. Or Augias-Zola: “Was Rome ever Christian?”. These were things inside of me since a long time and lurking their way out, i.e. trying to be expressed in clear words. I mean, when I quote an author it is often because he/she can better express what I had already felt but not verbally formulated, hence not totally clarified yet. It is a verbalization of intuitions I ask others to help me bring out. When I’m reading, I’m often struck by something. It’s cannibalism, or autism – a friend once told me. Well, I don’t really know, readers, I am not kidding.

One thing I though know is I hate exegesis of texts, a plague in Italian and foreign universities. What they call research over here is nothing but this totally moronic self-referential game of he-said-she-said, research and exams regarding “only what another earlier authority thought” (quote from John Brockman.) I really do hate exegeses, and most of the time I invoke the authority of nobody. I can invoke the big heros of thought like Goethe, and honour them as virtual guests in my living room, as a guarantee of non superficiality at least.

Books can fly. Fair use

But my quotations can be derived from Dante, Plutarch, Dan Brown, Bugs Bunny or Homer (Simpson, lol). No matter their origin, they are interesting to me to the extent that they clarify lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (= not translated into logos = reason = words). This lumpy mind stuff, well, keeps bugging me and asking to pls be let out of its irrational status.

Ψ

Thus being said, it is high time we introduce this great Roman to you. Since from the day this crucial encounter took place our life changed completely, the present blog is dedicated to him.

It is dedicated to our beloved mentor, or Magister, writer, philosopher, outstanding educator.

Maybe some readers are expecting him, so here he comes. Welcome, Magister!

Dialectics 3. Magister.
The Manifold longing for Unity

My ideas started fermenting the day I encountered Magister 35 years ago. It was a rainy day. Rome is so smelly when it rains. I went to this place where he delivered lectures, close to the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. He was already very old, with long white hair and beard, eyes penetrating. Italy was all a huge debate in the roaring 1970s (I am listening to Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon album to relive the feel of those days.)

Roma. Tiber with rain. Courtesy of eternallycool.net

Magister talked softly most of the time, the silence of the audience being absolute, even embarrassing at times. When he though got angry his voice became like thunder almost, eyes flashing.

I will never forget him. I was an ugly duckling when I met him. Not that he made a swan out of me, lol, but he taught me much, basically by having me understand I had the means to be a free man by just making use of my mind and will.

I do not know if I was a good pupil.

I left family to find my fortune. Unfortunate are the young who never find magistri.

I won’t reveal his identity – not that he would mind, he being no more, his ashes scattered somewhere in this eternal city he loved so much. I adored him and I was not the only one to cry over his ashes. There are reasons for not revealing his identity.

What I can say is just repeating this: to him I really owe a lot. Last but not least this love for knowledge, this curiosity or craving, don’t know how to phrase it – this chilly charming language being so difficult for a non mother-tongue.

I mean, this cultural hedonism which tends to auto-organization and which in defiance of age is constantly growing instead of abandoning my soul (cultural = related to knowledge, as people in France, Spain, Italy mean it).

Plus, of course, I owe him this dialectic method.

Spontaneous philosophy

From that day this process of spontaneous philosophy started going through alternate phases though basically it never stopped (well, almost never.)

Not a big deal, after all. Magister was a disciplined intellectual while I was too whimsical, too eclectic. I (re)turned to music, failing in this economically. I hence turned to high-school teaching and freelance journalism, which proved one of the best things I ever did in my life (teaching), while journalism being somewhat superficial to my taste it basically turned to be good training for writing (plus it taught me that success, even a tiny bit, is a powerful drug.)

Ok, journalism despite a bit of glory produced zero money. And teaching, well, teachers in this country are among the worst paid, the Italian ruling class caring about keeping power mostly and being not much interested in instructing the common people  – who might understand how they are manipulated by all parties, left and right, and by the mass-media.

This is why I finally turned to computer engineering, which produced more money but also gave a bit of a blow to this spontaneous philosophical process. Or maybe not?

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

“Ok, this story about Magister is moving, your failures a bit less, being pathetic. Don’t you realise you are a digression maniac not sticking to the point and forgetting about dialectics and its tendency towards unity?”

Ψ

No, I didn’t forget my point. The encounter with Magister in fact (and the sudden germination it produced) might hopefully help me to fulfill this longing for some unity which after all is the ultimate goal of any dialectics.

In other words, dear dear Magister, this imprinting I owe you makes me hope this quirky research of mine could somehow be fulfilled.

Dialectics 4.
Life is a comedy, not a tragedy.
Dialogue with readers

We know too well our topics are too heavy for the common reader while too unsophisticated for the happy few. Unfortunately the interests of readers are flocking towards entertainment, actors, gossip. So how many hits will I have? Very little. Not that I care much – well, I do a bit, but not so much. I am doing this just for fun, as Linus Torvalds said in his book about Linux.

And it’s such great fun, believe me, this philosophical folly!

Although, do not take me too seriously, please. Life is a comedy, not a tragedy, it shouldn’t be zu schwer, too grave (well, it is better to see it this way. Watch Benigni’s La vita è bella. Life is beautiful, or at least it could always be if we make use of will and imagination.

The autumn of life is a phase one should 1) do lots of sports and 2) use one’s brain extensively to keep it fit. And here, it is my opinion and personal taste, humanities & holistic thought, rather than specialised thought, are much much better for rewiring one’s synapses.

Tomb of the Diver. Public Domain Wikimedia

Wait, I forgot the completion element of blog dialectics: readers’ comments!

Hits might be negligible, but a few readers are arriving. The intriguing Indians came first, so unpredictable (since the Far East is really far.) Then one ex student of mine from USA, a great and totally eccentric guy living in Rome and who left one comment on my very first post. One Chinese woman too. China! She talked about mysterious things like vowels in Mandarin and Cantonese. A sweet person rich in emotions, which contradicts what many Italians think of the Chinese people, aliens with marble faces. Finally one first Italian guy (!), Massimo from Viterbo. That area is north of Rome but still in Latium, where the Etruscans lived and met the Romans. Might be promising.

Ψ

In the end this blogging mixes up my ideas, authors’ ideas and readers’ ideas. [Plato’s dialectics? Yes, though revised a bit.]

Now be patient enough to listen to Man of Roma’s (delirious?) conclusion …

Roman Night Forum Skyline

Dinners on a Roman Terrace.
Let us have fun!

Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is delightful. I’m inviting you all from every country, era space, location. I am inviting you ALL to this imaginary Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city‘s glorious skyline.

Rome (loose woman and she-wolf) is watching attentive. Is she smiling?

Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and smells from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …

Right here, dear guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit!

Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe.

Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another needed guest, of course) and plenty of good wine and, no real objection to a pot of beer (or cervesia), once in a while.

Playing being simple, playing being easy. All it takes is good food, good music and treasured company most of all!

Ψ

PS

While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.

Italian version

Sex and the City (of Rome). 1

Callipygian Venus. Fair use

Italian version

The ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude toward sex (so the minor or the puritanical shouldn’t read further.)

Suffice it to have a look at these statues, both beautiful and erotic, to intuitively grasp a sensuality that was open and entirely different from the Western manners of today.

The beauty and natural perfection of these bodies convey in fact the idea – a very simple idea, this very gifted Greek student I recently met would say – that sex wasn’t perceived as lewd or licentious; it was felt instead as one of the joys of life.

It is so simple:
as simple (and beautiful)
as a Greek temple
.

Sex was actually enjoyed naturally though in ways most contemporary folks wouldn’t even imagine, especially when we consider that these statues were somehow linked to rituals and religion.

We can admire above the perfect classical beauty of Venus Kallipygos, while, below, the statue of a Satyr (which a Roman female friend of mine chose among a set and assured me:‘it’s a pretty good erotic sample.’ Well, I couldn’t but yield to her superior discernment.)

Satyr (or Satiro, in Italian)

Venus was the Goddess of love (both carnal and spiritual) while a Satyr was a Dionysian creature lover of wine, women and boys, and ready for every physical pleasure. Child satyrs existed also (which appears such a sad thing to us nowadays) and took part in Bacchanalian/Dionysian religious rituals, usually (or sometimes) involving orgies too.

At this point I’m sure every reader cannot but agree that the Greco-Romans had a VERY different attitude toward sex. No doubt about that. An ENTIRELY different attitude indeed.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

If we could forget that these are classical statues, if we could regard them just as they appear to us and out of their context, we’d surely see them as pornographic.

According to the Wikipedia:

“the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. …When large scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality, and endeavored to hide them away ….. The moveable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples, Italy.”

[For more on these Pompeii erotic artifacts: this post of ours; two other posts, 1 and 2, from Ancient Digger, the former showing a video on the erotic artifacts, the latter discussing Roman sexuality & erotic art; a BBC program on the secret museum. Further readings are listed at the bottom of the page]

Shocking Roman Sexuality

Pan & goat Roman sex
Pan copulating with a she-goat. Click to enlarge and for credits (Wikimedia)

I do not quite agree with Wikipedia on how and when the modern concept of pornography was conceived, seeming this to me a totally Anglo-Saxon centred observation, forgetful of how history can be ancient.

I might be wrong (or right) but who the hell cares, chissenefrega, this whole Victorian thing being incredibly funny.

I can see these prudish Victorians feeling themselves as the heirs of the Romans (which somehow they were, at least in my view) who much to their horror found out how perverted the Romans had been (at least in their view), while together with the Italians they were uncovering all these sexy statues and frescoes.

I am imagining their shocked pale faces and am especially fantasizing about their shamefully and hastily helping the Neapolitans to hide somewhere the abominable truth.

The Neapolitans, incidentally, were at that time probably laughing at them a bit too, being of course much less disturbed by all those “frank depictions of sexuality” (try to guess why, dear reader … ).

Buttock Contest

Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks. Fair use

Getting back to the Ancients, this Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks is uncovering herself and looking back (and down) in order to evaluate her perfect behind.

The reason is again very simple (and very erotic, I’ll confess.) All originated from a buttock contest between two gorgeous sisters.

For which reason, who knows, this statue dedicated to Venus-Aphrodite might exactly represent both the winner and her behind. I mean – it’s sheer historical interest, of course – there’s a chance we are looking at her real ass. Not at usual idealized hindquarters according to Greek aesthetics.

And, the self-evaluation of her buttocks – pretty sure of that – was even more obvious than it appears today since statues were mostly painted in full colour therefore the direction of her gaze was probably more evident, her pupils being painted.

ψ

This cult of Venus-Aphrodite with beautiful buttocks appeared in Greek Syracuse (Sicily, Italy,) according to some ancient author, since this is where the sisters apparently lived.

Again, needless to say, it would be inconceivable nowadays to dedicate a sanctuary, a holy place, to a goddess because of a girl’s hot butttocks (read in the Wikipedia the whole peculiar story of the two lovely sisters.)

Goddess Venus

Esquiline Venus, in all her voluptuousness
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 and other pictures of her

Venus was the goddess of beauty, fertility and love.

The Roman Venus was born around Lavinium, according to Strabo. If true it was not by chance since Aeneas, the great Roman ancestor and son of Venus, landed in that area and founded the town after Lavinia, his wife. The Romans by the way were children of Venus and of Mars, the God of War: love and war – a weird mix, isn’t it.

This I am thinking while strolling between the Colosseum, to my left, and the temple of Venus and Roma, to my right, between these symbols of life and death. How multihued the Romans were.

The Greek Aphrodite was instead born in Cyprus – where the Greek student comes from, although I do not believe in signs like Brasilian Coelho does.

Vénus de l'Esquilin or Venus Esquilina
Vénus de l’Esquilin or Venus Esquilina, again. Some scholars suggest the model for this statue was Cleopatra herself. Flickr image, click for credits. Musei Capitolini. Roma

Young couples gathered close to the Venus temples for petting, necking and even coupling (green areas with temples where common in late Rome.) People were probably discreet but what is interesting is that their loving felt somehow enhanced, even sanctified by the presence of the Goddess, which is again unimaginable today despite our so-called sexual freedom.

Think of a today’s scenario where men and women flock near a Catholic or an Anglican church, in spring time, or in any time, for petting and all. I mean, even the mere thought could offend a true Christian.

Of course I do ask for pardon though please it’d also be nice if religious people did some effort as well. We are not here to offend religion(s) nor to make a porn site out this blog (which could make us richer though not necessarily happier.) We are here to talk about the Western roots. Now it turns these ancient Greeks & Romans had entirely different sexual mores.

Is it good? Is it bad? Hard to say. We somehow prefer the ancient customs though it is our personal opinion.  That is, we love to think Sex to equal Beauty, love and sex to be a sublime joy that shouldn’t be necessarily related to reproduction (like ALL Popes tried endlessly to teach us.)

lupaottimigut1.jpg

An Oppressive Revolution

OK, one might say. If these are our Western roots, what the hell has then happened? Why had we to undergo such an oppressive revolution which turned one of the joys of life into something indecent?

Was it because of the Victorians? Because of the Muslims? Was it because of the Christian priests and Fathers?

Perhaps the Victorians had later some influence on India, a country were the Kama Sutra was written, the first great text about love and sexual intercourse – beautiful, poetic and scientific – and the Victorians arrived with their not entirely positive influence in this field of human life …

[…if what the Wikipedia says is true.  I need some feedback by my Indians readers. Update: I received extensive Indian feedback one year later]

ψ

As for the West I am sure the answer is to be found during the times when the Roman Empire turned into a Christian Roman Empire, hence from Emperor Constantine onward (4th century AD.)

Not immediately though. It took some time, it surely took some time before we became totally repressed.

The Christians were mainly responsible, in my opinion, for this change of attitude (and for atrocities committed against non-Christians soon after Christianity took over), but it’d be fair to add that numerous pagans had already become a bit more puritanical as a reaction to some excesses.

ψ

One last thing. Are anywhere to be found survivals of such ancient freer attitude towards sex?

I believe so. We have said (Braudel had said) that big civilisations do not die. Plus we had entitled this post Permanences III (but changed its title later.)

Ok. Let’s not spoil what is next in the Sex and the city (of Rome) series.

A Roman Invoking Venus

We’ll conclude:

1) with this Roman copy of Castor and Pollux, or Dioscuri (youths of Zeus) by Praxiteles, Madrid (see below) – also enthusiastically approved by my female friend;

2) with Lucretius’ initial prayer to Venus.

ψ

Lucretius is a great Roman poet. From his verses one can get a good feel of how a real Ancient Roman felt about Venus.

So it is a pretty good conclusion for this Sex and the Romans num. 1 post.

If you are lucky enough to appreciate these verses you’ll live a unique experience, a real time-machine experience. This also classics offer, a time-machine experience.

Try to read these words attentively. You might penetrate the mysteries of a lost, arcane – though still living, still living – world …

Man of Roma

Dioskouroi. Madrid. Praxiteles (Roman copy) fair use

Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.

Initial invocation to Venus.

“Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands- for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!

For soon as comes the springtime face of day,
And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,
First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,
Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,
And leap the wild herds round the happy fields
Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,
Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee
Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,
And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,
Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,
Kindling the lure of love in every breast,
Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,
Kind after kind. And since ’tis thou alone
Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught
Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,
Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,
Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse
Which I presume on Nature to compose
For Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be
Peerless in every grace at every hour-

Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words
Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love-
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!.”

Of The Nature of Things [De Rerum Natura]
by Lucretius [Titus Lucretius Carus]
(Initial invocation to Venus)
Translated by William Ellery Leonard
(1876-1944)
Project Gutenberg Text

Reference and further reading:

  • Michael Grant and Antonia Mulas, Eros in Pompeii: The Erotic Art Collection of the Museum of Naples. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1997 (translated from the original 1975 Italian edition).
  • Walter Kendrick, The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (Berkley: University of California Press, 1996) ISBN 0-520-20729-7.
  • Antonio Varone, Eroticism in Pompeii. Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001.
  • John Clarke, Roman Sex: 100 B.C. to A.D. 250, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.
  • “Colonel Fanin” (Stanislas Marie César Famin), The Royal Museum at Naples, being some account of the erotic paintings, bronzes and statues contained in that famous “cabinet secret”(1871) On-line translation of Musée royal de Naples; peintures, bronzes et statues érotiques du cabinet secret, avec leur explication, 1836. Brief introduction by J.B. Hare, 2003.

ψ

Related posts:

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

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

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

See also:

Silvestri, Berlusconi and the Emperor Tiberius

Sex and the Search for a Method

Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius, Emperor and philosopher
Italian version

I am preparing a post on method.

Why?

1) Because I am a dilettante philosopher who is not content with just blogging. I need a method in my blogging.
2) I had promised a method post, so it is very Roman-like to keep my promise 🙂

Truth being the method governing my posts keeps bugging me since I started this blog, and, needing to process my ideas a bit I propose this posting sequence to readers:

I) a post as a preparation for the method post (ugh!). It’s the present post. I need it for clearing my mind up before the real thing.

II) A post on SEX, as a break. It might help not to lose ALL my readers because of my philosophical manias.

III) The real thing, i.e. the method post.

IV) A second post on SEX, to beg for additional pardon, thus ending this sequence in full regalia.

Ψ

What do you think? Will you pardon me? Will SEX help?

Rhetorical questions not expecting answers let us put some preparatory ideas together and that the trip begin!

Game of Ideas
with Hidden Links

1) We will touch upon questions from numerous points of view, as if for each topic there were like a dialogue of different opinions in the writer’s mind.

2) A thought in progress where who is writing is gradually clarifying his ideas. Such ideas might contradict one another because the writer is constantly reaching new (sometimes opposite) perspectives, which could baffle the reader but also help her/him understand the complexity of things.

3) A game of ideas, then, with anecdotes and facts only apparently deprived of connections. Such connections (mental links) will sometimes be explicit (said) or implicit (unsaid,) which should bring the reader to make her/his own connections, namely towards creative non-passive reading / thinking.

Ψ

Well, at least Magister was very successful in this game. But Magister was Magister.

Writing. Low res. Fair use

Writing vs Thinking

Writing, thinking, clarifying,
striving to sort out thoughts
in ways so “clear and ordinate”
and comprehensible.

This, many years ago, Magister counselled
for the good education of the mind.
Beloved Magister,
writer, philosopher, educator…

Ψ

Writing in fact is a stern discipline linked to the activity of thinking. Writing teaches us how to think in ways so clear and ordinate. It obliges us to. Reason and word (word = discourse, written or oral) are actually only one word in Greek: λόγος (logos.)

Awkward prose or clumsy oral / written reports often reflect muddled thoughts.

As for the MoR the problem is:

  • writing in a foreign language makes things harder
  • we have this fatal attraction for digressions and all their unrestrained associations, ie for chaos (something Magister definitely wouldn’t condone.)

We like both sides of the moon – the dark indistinct and the crystal-clear. We appreciate discipline, clear argumentation, polished sentences, and we also dig lush jungles of words. Examples of both attitudes in art are:

  • The perfect equilibrium of Western Classical Music: Mozart, Boccherini, Clementi, Haydn and young Beethoven. Or of Italian Opera: Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti etc. wrongly called romantic, since Italian Opera is classical in its nature (and even Puccini is.) Interesting how Italians never totally absorbed Romanticism, their classical heritage and almost inborn sense of taste (and grace) being too tenacious (read here.)
  • Insane Western Romantic music (later Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Scriabin etc.), with a tendency towards excess.

Thus said, will our so-called philosophy be muddled? Will readers think MoR is crazy? I really got no idea, I really got no idea at all.

ψ

Note. We just gave above an example of digression + bizarre association. The concepts of writing and thinking were linked with music, two totally different planes of the human experience, although the connection appears evident to me.

We like mental associations though we understand they may confuse readers. See an example in the post Relax & Creativity.

Weakness or Strength?

My friend The Jurist has told me yesterday:

“Why the heck are you worried about this roving of the mind? It’s just a blog, go ahead and be crazy.”

True, but the thing is I am a bit ambitious (only a bit, or I will fail). I am actually attempting a research. A research from a man-in-the-street-of-Rome point of view, though a research nonetheless. Thence this roving tendency could turn into a weakness (or into a strength?)

A Philosopher in Every Man

Magister used to say that every person is a natural-born philosopher, ie everyone, during the entire course of his/her life, keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts. This world vision or Weltanschaung (read here) enables us to com-prehend the surrounding world (from Latin comprehendere, cum + prehendere = put together, grasp, or insert into a grid).

Comprehension of the surrounding environment – it implies also better (inter)action within it, the two things going together.

ψ

Ok, if this is true of every man (that he is a natural born philosopher,) and, if I am a man, which I certainly am, I should somehow hope to be able to transmit my Roman feel in a sort of organized way. Is that true?

In principle yes, ALL though depending on the degree of discipline, education and availability of time I dispose of.

A Helping Hand

  1. What’s the difference – one might ask – between a philosopher on one hand and a man of the street on the other hand? No difference, except the level of training, skill, specialization that may differ. The philosopher is a pro. Which doesn’t mean the non-pros must shut up. I will not 😉
  1. We should all learn to think (and write) more effectively because it can greatly help us to make our days and guide us in the fundamental choices of our life. The more efficiently we think, the happier we live, classical measure being vital here though: should we think too much and act too little, we can get neurotic, wimpish (the list is long.)

This blog will try to give a helping hand to those who think self-improvement is important and possible.

Mind. Fair use

Reason? Not All

Ideas are now taking shape a bit as regards my future method post. The next writing will though as promised be devoted to SEX, SEX, SEX NOTHING BUT SEX (though in the Roman way.)

In the meanwhile, some additional patience pls.

One can rule one’s chaotic mind with control, writing, striving for some order. But chaos is still there; non rational things, disorder etc. are still there. The guys at the Third Culture are doing some work on this, good idea to have a look at it.

What I do know is we can not live in disorder. We need force, organization, we need to discipline ourselves most of the time.

Though not all the time.

We also need excess, spring breaks, fun, Carnivals, Saturnalia – a Roman festival (see picture below) where rules were broken: masters became for ex. slaves and slaves masters (see two posts of ours on Saturnalia: 1 & 2).

The Romans were big gurus in the art of living. They ruled the world with humour on their faces and tongue and not with mystical seriousness. While facing the most dreadful tragedies with utmost courage, they preferred comedies.

Saturnalia. Authour unknown. Fair use

Reason and order are not all. They can lead to horrors if taken too seriously, a great lesson from the non ideological Romans, that some folks from colder climes do not seem to have quite understood. Taking things zu schwer can call disaster.

Let us then have fun then too! Carnivals are made for that! Look at Rio in Brasil, look at our Spanish cousins! – an economic success [2014 update: well, well, they, we, will rise up again: we are confident] although Madrid has movida every night.

Mask

God, how can I finish this never ending blabber?

Perhaps with Coelho‘s beautiful words, from his novel Zahir:

Let us have some respect
for our life on this planet …


Relaxation & Creativity

Creativity and Thinking. Fair use

In Deception Point Dan Brown describes the editorial office of ABC News, “at a fever pitch 24 hours a day”. When a scoop arrives this paroxysm goes even beyond its limits: “wild-eyed editors screamed to one another over the tops of their compartments etc..” Then in another wing of that same place reside “the glass-walled private offices reserved for the decision makers who actually required some quiet to think”.

ABC Studios. Fair use

Actually for real thought one needs quiet, relaxation. This reminds me of a Roman top advertising agency where, at the end of the 80s, extremely well-paid copywriters and art directors were walking around in robes or catching the sun on a very elegant terrace overlooking Parioli-district-haute-bourgeoisie Rome. I was puzzled at the time but I later realized how ideas actually come out brighter this way since, as it has been observed, they are often suddenly presented to us when we are relaxed and not when we are actively striving for them (true for remembering things as well: the more we strive to remember, the less we succeed). See also Buddhist meditation (or meditation tout court) and its effectiveness upon creativity and mental health.

Budda in ceramica, Bután. Public Domain

See also the scientific discovery process. British scientists talked a lot about the three Bs — Bed, Bath and Bus, which appear to be those idle-mind situations where great discoveries are favoured. Obviously Anglo-Saxon buses are much more relaxing than their Roman compeers.

Italian version

Diary-writing (or Blog-writing)

Diary. Fair use

“Diary-writing isn’t wholly good for one … It leads to living for one’s diary instead of living for the fun of living as ordinary people do”. James Agate 1877-1947, British drama critic and novelist.

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

Life, generally, should be something harmonious where a single part should never devour the rest. A thing like that can of course occur and the results be sometimes outstanding – as it happens with those geniuses who are such only because they concentrate all their potential on one single point. This kind of disharmony though hardly brings happiness.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Note to some comments to this post. I had commented on this blog’s post Buddhist thought of the day with some thoughts about Buddhism: “I am not religious but I think that Buddhism, compared with other religions, is more endowed to confront with modern science…since, as Dalai Lama says, “it grants maximum authority to experience, secondly to reason and only lastly to scriptures”. This is why Indian xntricpundits has sent me these comments on Buddhism and not on diary-writing.

Italian version

Young People vs Life


World Youth Orchestra. Fair use
World Youth Orchestra. Fair use

 

Young people sometimes hold in little account their wonderful life and give it away in the name of a cause without too much reflecting on the consequences of their actions. When I was a child my mother told me about this guy, one of her father’s best friends, a seven-generations Roman (romano di sette generazioni, used here to indicate a real Roman) who died as a volunteer in World War I leaving a young wife and four orphaned children, two girls and two boys, all of them extremely attractive, she said.

The girls and the youngest boy led a normal life (he was often sad and incidentally died too as a volunteer in World War II); the eldest boy went a bit on the wild side and became a hopeless lady-killer, apparently even more affected than his youngest brother by this deprivation of paternal counsel. His children and grandchildren suffered because of his bearing, my mother said, and many turned out to be a failure in their lives.

If what my mother said is true it seems that the price for a moment of thoughtless idealism was a high one to pay and all this badly affected the generations to come (which doesn’t mean at all that I am against idealism or against the idea of fighting for a right cause, this is not my point).

Corfu Island Channel. Public domain
Corfu Island Channel. Public domain

 

Young people are such radical idealists. During the 1968 student revolution a few youths burned themselves alive as a sign of protest.

10 years later approximately I was enjoying my August holidays on the enchanting Greek island of Corfu together with Flavia and a couple of friends (see picture above). There we met this Greek father of a young man who apparently was my age (I was between 27 and 30 at that time, don’t remember exactly, while my friends were younger than me).

This poor father was a tailor and being noon and terribly hot I really wanted my jeans to be cut Bermuda-like in order to better resist the heat. So we saw this tiny little workshop and entered it (the little street was similar to the one in the picture below). While bending to the ground in order to measure my pants and be able to cut them accordingly, the old man suddenly burst into tears, a bewildering behaviour that surprised us.

When he calmed down a bit he said that I was the age his son would have been if he didn’t burn himself alive for protest against the Greek colonels (namely the dictators that governed Greece with an iron hand one decade roughly before that summer, and who were supported by the US who were trying to prevent Greece from embracing communism).

I will never forget this poor man’s eyes, wet with tears and expressing such an infinite pain.

Corfu Town. Gnu Licence low res Fair Use
Corfu Town. Gnu Licence (low res Fair Use)

 

Italian version