In the British character Italians may perceive elements of brutality. This for example appears when they become angry and yell, both the men and the women. It is a cry sometimes unpleasant and almost repugnant to us, sorry to say that. It is not clear whether it is us who are too soft or them too hard.

A young girl very close to my family, Claudia, who had studied one month in Cambridge, England (see image above,) was walking one day on a street of that lovely town – she told us. Being unexpectedly captured by a shop-window and stopping in wonder in front of it, her rapture was suddenly (and rudely) shattered by a cutting rebuke – ‘STUPID GIRL!!!’ – yelled with such hardness by a middle-aged woman whose hasty walking had apparently been blocked by the girl’s sudden halt.
Despite Claudia’s outspoken character, she stayed frozen on that same spot for a few seconds, aghast.

Now it doesn’t really matter who was right, the English woman (more likely) or the young absent-minded (and possibly unruly) 17-years-old Italian girl. What I’m focusing on here is the nastiness of that cry – Claudia is a splendid imitator – and the lack of humanitas and sympathy we sometimes perceive in some Northern European people, despite their correctness and civic manners (surely greater than ours: see a conversation with Alex, a Briton, and other persons in Alex’s blog.)

Manchester United’s Din of War

Let me remember an impressive football game between Juventus and Manchester United played a few years ago at the Old Trafford stadium. In that occasion the United fans showed such a wild reaction against the psychological blow delivered to them by a first-minute scorching shot by Alessandro Del Piero – he elegantly dribbled sideways and scored (see below) – that the whole episode how can I ever forget.

The stadium was suddenly struck dumb. All, I mean ALL, United fans (50,000? 60,000?) were like annihilated and remained totally silent for several minutes. Such a terrible silence, such an impressive collective affliction we didn’t suspect what it soon would lead to.

After a while here in fact comes a low-pitched grumbling first, like an unnatural deep buzz, followed by a crescendo of shouts screams bellows against the Italian team, which kept growing and growing and became so deafening that the Juventus players, made incapable to reason, their morale disrupted, ran into total defeat.

I was bewildered and indignant! All seemed so unfair, brutal!

Therefore how could I not think – I’m obsessing-obsessed – about that awful din of war addressed to the Roman legionaries of Caius Marius by the German Teutones and Ambrones (comrades of the Cimbri) whose number – writes Plutarch, probably exaggerating – was limitless and covered a vast plain.

Here is Plutarch describing that dreadful sound:

“Here was lamentation among them all night long, not like the wailings and groanings of men, but howlings and bellowings with a strain of the wild beast in them, mingled with threats and cries of grief …. The whole plain was filled with an awful din, and the Romans were filled with fear, and even Marius himself was filled with consternation.” It was 102 BC, the night before the terrible battle of Aquae Sextiae.

I couldn’t but think about that famous night while I was watching the total disbandment of one of the best soccer teams in the world.

A Human Avalanche

Well, the Romans’ peasant’s endurance was surely tougher than Juventus’ (looking for a base consolation, am I not.) Being petrified by that shocking sound and not able to sleep (the Romans,) the following morning they nevertheless pulled themselves together and wiped out their enemies with a double attack from the front and from behind.

The battle and the following one near Vercellae (modern Vercelli, Italy) ended up with the total annihilation of the human avalanche who had terrorised the nations of the Empire (Mommsen).

I know all this happened 21 centuries ago, I know I’m digressing and it’s surely unfair to see in today’s English fans the grand-children of those first German hordes
[Alex observes: “Being from the UK, I am considered by the Italians to be someone from an Anglo-Saxon culture … you’ll be happy to hear that I rarely wear fur.”]

And yet, believing as much as I do that even the most far-away past can be alive in our present, that din from the United fans …


In the end, since it’s not only British-like to grant the honours of war to courage, we’ll admit the United fans were not totally unfair (they were only a bit,) and most of all, leaving football trivia behind, we feel like paying the humblest of tributes to the brave Cimbri and Teutons and especially to their unbelievably fierce and ferocious women.

So here are Plutarch’s words (Life of Marius), not for the faint of heart:

“(Acquae Sextiae) the Romans kept slaying them until they came in their flight to their camp and waggons. Here the women met them, swords and axes in their hands, and with hideous shrieks of rage tried to drive back fugitives and pursuers alike, the fugitives as traitors, and the pursuers as foes; they mixed themselves up with the combatants, with bare hands tore away the shields of the Romans or grasped their swords, and endured wounds and mutilations, their fierce spirits unvanquished to the end.”

“(Vercellae?) The fugitives, however, were driven back to their entrenchments, where the Romans beheld a most tragic spectacle. The women, in black garments, stood at the waggons and slew the fugitives — their husbands or brothers or fathers, then strangled their little children and cast them beneath the wheels of the waggons or the feet of the cattle, and then cut their own throats. It is said that one woman hung dangling from the tip of a waggon-pole, with her children tied to either ankle.”


Related posts:

Us and the Hyperboreans. 1
Us and the Hyperboreans. 3
Isn’t the British Trojan Horse a Short-sighted Animal?
(around which an extensive discussion developed about the UK vs Italy and Europe)
Ups and Downs
From the two Sides of the Roman Limes
Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

6 thoughts on “Us and the Hyperboreans. 2

  1. Perception is a tricky thing.

    When it comes to soccer, I think we overdo the English “spirit” thing.

    For example, recall the Champions League final in 2005 when Liverpool miraculously came from behind down 3-0 to defeat a great AC Milan team.

    It was lauded as proof of English spirit and never say die attitude. Despite being outplayed for 110 minutes Liverpool managed to capitalize on Milan’s lack of focus for 10 minutes and earned a well-deserved victory.

    Yet, I can’t help but wonder how the English would have reacted had the tables been turned. Something tells me they would rationalize it as being typical “cynical” Italian soccer at work.

    The English perception of Italian soccer is somewhat off. I read Jimmy Greaves’ autobiography. A great goal scorer with a sense of humor, Greaves holds a rather simplistic and almost condescending view of Italian soccer. How much that is tied to his own failings in Italy is difficult to say.


  2. @exposrip

    I think we overdo the English “spirit” thing.

    True, the English ‘unconquerable will’ can somewhat be a stereotype. The thing is – as Miss Expatria well put it – to the Italians who often ‘don’t seem to give an eff about pretty much anything that doesn’t directly involve them on an immediate level’, such collective behaviours – like those during the wars or after the last bombing in London – are really stunning (and admirable).

    Ok, this is soccer, I know all fans in the world are united in their passion, and yet there in Manchester, that silence and the bellowing, I perceived them as unique, although perception can be tricky as you say.

    Some of them have a condescending view of Italian soccer? Well, they have chosen our Capello as their English team’s trainer, haven’t they 😉


  3. PS
    As an example of their granting the honours of war to courage, I’ll quote their newspapers’ comments on our brave victory over the Germans during the last World Cup:

    Daily Telegraph: “Devastated by the Serie A refereeing scandal that threatens four clubs with relegation, the land of Calcio has been rocked back on its expensive heels these past few months but last night they composed an ode to joy on German soil. And the world’s hearts sang with Italy”.

    Daily Mirror: “They came as the pariahs of the world …. but on Sunday it is Italy who will march into Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, their chests puffed out with pride, their honour restored, their courage rewarded”.

    This also throws light on our relationship with the Hyperboreans, which is complex though not deprived sometimes of a two-way fairness … 🙂

    All the best


  4. That was indeed a wonderful moment in Germany. Against such a hostile environment the Italians never lost their nerve and verve. I was thoroughly impressed. And the goals were works of pure brilliance.

    Yes, I’ve also seen articles in England (Rob Hughes is my favorite soccer writer) that praise Italy.

    I do hope Capello can bring success to England. It would be nice to see England qualify for 2010 and go far in the tournament.


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