Locking Horns. Fair use

In an earlier post we had said that our writings are finding free inspiration in the technique of dialectics which involves a dialogue we carry out 1) within our mind, 2) among minds (mostly through books) and 3) with readers.

As far as point 2) since we are not important persons, hence not in a position to recreate at our place a circle with top intellectuals, this virtual Symposium is what is left to us.

Which involves a certain number of virtual guests, a virtual guest being “a quotation or just a reference to a book passage“. Id est, the ideas of an author, dead or alive, participate in the discussion thanks to the greatest invention of all time: writing.

A Roman Warrior?

I was trying to explain this whole “Virtual Symposium & Writing” concept to this young (and uncouth) Roman, some time ago.

We locked horns a bit, like males sometimes do, but the fight was worthwhile. Yes, I really think it was worthwhile, beyond a doubt.

Here is therefore the conversation we had on this topic.

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

“What??? – said this 22-year-old dear student of mine while he was reading my method post. “How horribly dull this whole thing is! Just intellectual masturbation!”.

Romans are blunt, no doubt. Understatement has no home here.

Being hit by what he had said, I played it cool and replied:

” You are entirely wrong, and I’ll prove it to you. People usually think that the Internet was one of the greatest revolutions, allowing for example almost lightspeed communication or e-learning.”

“I know it too well cazzo“.

Being a web programmer trying to learn ‘Operating Systems’ from me he started raising his voice (he’s such a good boy but he can get pretty emotional.)

“We were talking about intellectual masturbation, what the f*** has this to do…”.

“Wait a moment– I snapped – what I do mean is we forget a much bigger revolution. We forget the invention of writing. And why was it a major breakthrough? Because it allowed for the first time storage of human knowledge (accounting, math, inventions, manuals, encyclopedias, thoughts etc.). Storage of knowledge: think of it, per Bacco! What the hell would they invent computers for, if writing wasn’t there??”

I realised my voice was rising too. I can get pretty emotional as well. I saw he was starting to be sort of conquered, but people in their twenties have endless energy.

“We were talking about a Symposium. Where are you aiming at prof, eh?”.

“Be patient, I am sticking to the point”. My voice was getting pretty authoritative (although he was right, of course.)

Stonehenge. Fair use

“We know nothing about Stonehenge people – I said firmly – or about who invented fire. From the day writing was invented in Mesopotamia we know all, or enough, of what has happened. This miracle started roughly from the end of the 4th millennium BC onward, in the region where today are Irak and Kuwait, huge hard disks and server farms being only a simple consequence of this.”

He was getting nervous, I clearly felt it.

“Here in the West first came volumina, rolls of papyrus or animal skin. Later, in the II century AD, appeared the books we all know. People could read and learn what other people had thought from different parts of the world, even from different eras. This was the revolution. A big one. Humanity boosted forward. Experiences added incrementally. Reading the works of Plato in ancient Rome was a sort of Distant Learning, although nobody called it that way.”

I made a pause. He was quiet now.

“Another great invention was then added, printing, making the whole thing explode. When we think that printing was only starting in 1450 AD, but that around 1500 AD 40,000 books were already produced and catalogued, we have an exact idea of the effects that a further big technological leap like printing had added in the context of human culture: during only 50 years, more books were produced than those created during the previous 2000 years! Of course the big thing was writing, not printing, though printing added a lot of fuel to the fire, boosting the whole process tremendously. Did you get what I mean boy?

He was not nervous any more, he was actually staring.

“The process could not be stopped – I continued implacable. Napoleon kept Caesar‘s De Bello Gallico (or Homer’s Iliad) on his bedside table and became every day a better general. I am reading Just for fun by Linus Torvalds and delving more and more into Linux, leaving Microsoft behind. I will never meet this Linus Torvalds superstar, but is it that important? He has already told me the essentials of his mind”.

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

I made another pause. Longer this time. I perceived he had started reflecting so much though he was trying to hide his feelings to me. Mine was a dirty trick, of course, since I know he’s crazy about Linux, although it is true I have almost finished great Torvald’s book. I sort of perceived he was conquered. A seasoned teacher always knows when it happens.

After some silence he said:

“You mean your symposium is communication among minds thru books, beyond space and time?”

“Yes, Massimo, exactly. I talk to people this way. This is my Greek Symposium: having great (medium or even small) minds interact with mine.”

Massimo was still staring at me apparently conquered although I somewhat underestimated the tremendous force deriving from youth, exactly like the Romans felt the barbarians were conquered, but they were not. He in fact abruptly backfired, in a style typical of male competition: it is biological, but there’s affection in these games.

“You comparing yourself with Napoleon eh? This is not the point though. You know what excites me about this whole thing Prof ? You know what?” he said.

“Tell me Massimo”.

I was starting to get a bit worried, though my voice kept calm and controlled.

“Well, since I guess most of these people are dead, it is like you having intercourse with corpses or mummies, isn’t it, Prof. Ah ah ah ah. Pretty macabre and pretty perverted, Prof, don’t you think? Ah ah ah ah. Pretty macabre and pretty perverted ah ah ah”.

Sometimes people from villages around Rome or in Latium love to repeat things twice.


Gosh was I stunned (though amused, I’ll confess.) His laughing was so crass. Romans can be so terribly crass, to tell you the truth. Additionally, he said this in such vulgar Roman slang (a bit closer to Latin than Italian) I do not dare to translate it here.

I soon had to tolerate his laughing loudly again while he was leaving classroom (time for a break), together with his ancient malicious look, which sort of hid a feeling of sympathy, which I clearly felt, not many doubts about it, type of man-to-man thing.

Holy S***! This new generation of Italians! Besides, another CSI fan?

I hate CSI. I really do. It corrupts youth. There can be no doubt about it. There can really be no doubt.


References. Antinucci, F. (1993) Summa Hypermedialis (per una teoria dell’ipermedia), in SISTEMI INTELLIGENTI / anno V, n. 2. (Francesco Antinucci is a valid Roman intellectual, psychologist and writer. We will talk about him again: see the post Books, Multimedia and E-learning)
Derry T.K. – Williams T.I., (1960), A Short History of Technology, Clarendon Press, Oxford (old though still an outstanding text on history of technology and its influences on human culture & education)

22 thoughts on “Locking Horns with a Young Roman

  1. Funny, Man of Rome, and well written. I wish I knew Italian well enough to imagine that boy’s ugly slang “closer to Latin than Italian”.


  2. @100swallows
    I thank you. I really appreciate this compliment by an American who writes so well. I’ll tell you American English has been my model for many years. I was pretty influenced by J. D. Salinger (I think I unconsciously imitate him, here and there) and by some friends I met from the USA.

    As far as the Roman dialect, yes, it’s got words closer to Latin: mo’ means now (Latin modo: in Italian we say ora instead), capo means person (Latin caput) etc., though basically Italians have no difficulty in understanding Roman, because it is a dialect from the centre, where Italian (Tuscan) sprouted. The words said by that boy are too vulgar. I do not want people at WordPress to frown upon me lol. I think the series Sex and the city of Rome is enough for now.


  3. @man of Roma

    very funny indeed!!! And very stimulating (intellectually).

    I was kind of busy hence the delay in comments….May be I do it more than the “correct measure”. It appears that I have finally caught up with ur posting speed…

    I liked the war of words that happened although I doubt, if anybody has guts to say like that to ur prof. more than guts, its the way we look up to profs – Unquestioning respect like standing up to him while answering etc… And Hypocrites that we are… ( biggest hypocrite in world are Indians) we unbashedly abuse him/her if Prof is no good.

    Now Coming back to the post, winning an argument in a debate doesn’t prove your point, it just goes on to show how desperate you are to prove your point. gr8 words these are… but obviously they are not mine..lol 😉 I don’t agree that Writing was the biggest invention of all time. I say it was perhaps, the biggest improvisation of all times. The invention being drawing… which is almost as important as writing or perhaps of even greater value. Don’t you think so?


  4. Hi Man of Rome, while I leave you with this more intriguing and stimulating question about writing vs drawing, I think that also your last quotation on CSI is pretty interesting. Would you please develop this topic a bit further? In what sense CSI corrupts our teenagers?


  5. “I hate CSI. I really do. It corrupts youth. There can be no doubt about it. There can really be no doubt about it.”

    I am interested in why you hate CSI? I watched it before, though I am not a fan of CSI. It’s a kind of drama about crime. I do agree that it corrupts youth by the way they expressed in the drama. I think the producer wanted to draw people’s attention and created a drama that they THINK IS THE BEST…Actually, there are tons of dramas in US that look similar lol.. what do u think?


  6. @Falcon
    I wasn’t so desperate to prove my point lol. I care for this student because he is very intelligent, quick and witty. I was just trying to teach him something *outside* IT because in my view if you are only a specialist you are kind of blind.

    In any case I didn’t win, because the way he suddenly backfired actually confused me. So I think, in that little male competition, he was the winner, not me.

    Another thing. In many comments of yours you say Indians are great hypocrites. I do not have this impression. I do not see why you keep saying this. It would be interesting to know your opinion.

    Last but not least, writing vs drawing … very complex topic. Which one was more important? Hard to say. Are you referring to those prehistoric cave paintings we had long ago in India, Thailand, Indonesia etc.? In Europe very famous are the Lascaux paintings, in France, and those in Altamira, Spain. There are many interpretations: hunt magic, shamanism, first birth of Art etc. But I do not want to say stupid things. Maybe writing and drawing are not comparable, being very different, although sometimes they unite, like in ideograms. This could bring us to explore fascinating topics regarding mind and thought, but one should do some studying first.


  7. @Milanese

    In a *previous post* while quoting an English writer, Brian Aldiss (“Keep violence in the mind where it belongs”) I had commented:

    “It is good that this and other things be left in the mind only. There is nothing wrong about having non ordinary fantasies … but where does the borderline between imagination and action reside? I look with some suspicion at violent TV serials like CSI especially because so many teenagers are crazy about them, not to mention movies like Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal ….”

    I think violence is in us, dear Milanese. Therefore it is natural for male teenagers, especially, to like violence, arms, fight. They are little warriors and we are a species that has to kill in order to live, after all. But all this violence in TV etc. , I am asking myself, isn’t it excessive? Aren’t we nourishing this, so-to-say, dark side of ours a bit too much?

    Yes, AutumnSnow, these are very well made dramas and are very popular. Being very well made makes them even more influential though, in my view. Of course the reaction of a teenager is not predictable, and for some of them watching violent stuff can be sort of … cathartic, mitigative. Yet …


  8. @Man Of Roma

    No I was not talkin abt Drawing in prehistoric times in particular.
    Though It was in many ways the first way of expressing your thoughts but drawing as a whole, is equally important.

    For eg: Consider a 4 pieces of wood each measuring 60 * 5 * 5 cm . A pair formed by joining another ply of 90 * 10 * 8 at the top by male and female joint of 4* 4* 4 at the top and 5cm away from the either end of the ply. the whole structure is supported by a ply of 70* 5* 2 which is held toogether by a hexa gonal nut and further syrengthened by metal strip of 8 * 1 cm riveted to the ply. on the entire frame work is placed another rectangular board of 100 *80cm…

    Sounds confusing isn’t it? But tell me If i just draw you a picture of a table and gave you the dimension wouldn’t that be a lot less complicated???

    And mind you it was my pathetic attempt of describing you a simple table, what if i were to share with you my model of an electrically controlled toy car or we were to discuss the design of an aircraft hydraulics???


  9. @ Man of roma

    My thoughts abt INdian being hypocrites are too complicated right now to be put in as comment ..may be i will put it as post on my blog when I get time…

    Regarding what i said in previous comment it was not my thought I was mwerely echoing “Anatoly Makrusha” a russian author ….


  10. @Falcon
    Now I understand your point about drawing. Yes, I agree it was something very important indeed. More important than writing? Well, I still believe the two things cannot be compared, or it is just me who cannot compare them.
    I will wait for your post on hypocrisy and read it with pleasure.

    All the best, dear Falcon


  11. @Falcon
    Now, after some reflection, I think that the (re)presentation of ideas and information (and their communication to others) in ways different from writing (like with drawing, for example) has been very important though the inventions of writing & printing maybe sort of conditioned later developments (very complicated stuff to explore, in any case).

    In this sense then one can probably say writing was more crucial, but now that we have multimedia, animations, 3d simulations etc., Drawing & C. can take their revenge in some way. The relationship between math and geometry could also be explored. But math is not my forte 😦

    See my new post on multimedia (based on an old text of mine but also inspired by this debate between us):
    “(Differently from books) new media are not naturally forced into a linear type of communication, which goes from A to Z, into a logical progression. New media can be non-linear. They can manipulate links and ideas, images, symbolic 3D models and can produce interactive simulations so as to express, in intuitive ways, what books and speech can express using hundreds of words.”

    All the best


  12. Thx for the “reflection” on my blabber…
    As far as mathematics is concerned…people do find it difficult… probabaly becoz they think it only on analytical terms… But if u can make the mathematical it becomes highly intreasting… Even a difficult topic like calculus is very easy once u have the graphical form..Ie u begin to see wht F(x) and the said question means ..in reality… again an advantage of drawing..lol

    Regarding the post on hypocrsy .. I am sorry my mind is too fucked up to write something that important..i hope I near future I able to deliver my promise…

    My sincere apologies to u…


  13. @Falcon
    You apologizing for what … and do not feel any obligation, I am the one to thank you for your stimulating comments.

    Btw, I knew you were a math guy … I am not, and there’s no remedy for that at 59 😦

    Italians are often very bad in math competitions, while Indians are said to be very good mathematicians …


  14. Question. How many morons out there actually believe what they see on those garbage CSI shows is actually true? Well boys and girls, sadly — millions.
    Take this scenario. A rare, hard to find rope was used to create a corpse of some poor slob. Yep, it was gonna be hard to find who might sell this rope. Hold it – no it ain’t. Let’s fire up our CSI Rope Database which will search the inventory of every store on the planet. Yep, it worked.
    Let’s whip right over to these stores and see who bought this rope. We’ll then have suspects and eventually nail the killer.
    Listen up CSI dickheads. There ain’t no rope database.
    CSI do not track down leads. I have seen episodes where they stake-out suspects waiting for them to leave behind a DNA sample. Listen up CSI twitbrains — IT’S MADE UP.

    How can anyone enjoy a television show that is crap from start to finish.

    Speaking of cops. Have you ever noticed that Brass cop on the regular CSI series always works the same shift as the CSI gang does? Caruso cop guy from Miami always looks at people sideways. He also pays a lot of hospital bills and funeral expenses for crime victims. He is one swell man.

    You may have noticed the CSI shows have a database to search anything. They can search people’s private medical records to see what drugs a person has purchased. Here is the scenario from CSI Miami. I could have it backwards, not being an insulin expert, but this is the general idea.

    CSI twits have determined that the murderer uses insulin because the murder scene has a sweet smell, which supposedly insulin does when a person is getting low. The suspect they are interviewing doesn’t stink, but his limo does. Holy smokes, CSI now knows said suspect uses insulin. Good thing they smelled inside the limo. CSI hunches that the suspect must have injected just before committing the dreadful deed this time around. No problem for CSI. They search a database for all people who bought insulin in the last 24 hours, and yes, the suspects name is on the list. Get real CSI. There ain’t no way, ever, that this is plausible. It would mean they can search every pharmacist’s database anytime they damn well feel like it. Duh. How did they get permission to do this? I guess all pharmacies are required by law to let the police search people’s private records. More Duh!

    Anytime a CSI person has a hunch about something, they sit their sweet ass down at a computer, and just start typing. Poof, up pops an answer. There was no need to actually find the correct non-existant database first, then search.

    CSI’s are experts of all trades. They can inspect a car from top to bottom to determine if someone was messin with it. They can analyze a cars electronics just like that and understand what the data means. Wow! It takes a real mechanic a long time to learn this.

    Holy Smokes CSI writers. Here is an idea for a spinoff. The show is about a mechanic who just happens to be an expert in all things CSI.

    Stay tuned CSI lovers. More idiotic scenarios coming soon.

    And here is another as promised.
    CSI gang is at the home of some suspect. They lift a fingerprint from some object. It just so happens that one of the gang has the set of fingerprints with them of the person who committed the crime. The two are compared, but not with any scientific means, just by a casual glance, and guess what – they match. Crime solved.

    Same scenario as above, this time one of the gang has a transparent image of a tire tread with them. He puts this image on a tire of the suspect vehicle and instantly declares “It’s a match” Yeah, well it will match thousands of other tires as well. A match is found by finding some irregularity. How did he know which tire to compare? Maybe the irregularity was on the bottom of the tire. Maybe in real life the tires would need to be removed, taken to the lab where some kind of established comparing method has to be used.

    In the meantime all of those CSI FREAKS should be required by law to increase your intelligence about the real world of CSI.


  15. @jack butchie
    Wow, this is a huge analysis of moronic stuff and details in CSI.

    As far as CSI moronic (so to say) public, I think many people know these things cannot be true (all these databases on everything, even ropes, for example: i liked that). What they care for though is the entertainment CSI can provide, it is all it matters to them. I have to confess I do not much care about inaccurate details which I accept in fiction (it is my view, of course). I care more about this violence and gory stuff people are getting more and more used to. CSI indulges too much in this, in our so-called dark side. It is something I consider dangerous, especially for teens.

    Incidentally, it seems that sex is more scary to many Americans than violence, which is weird around here.

    All the best and thanks for you long comment!


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