“Italy Was, And Is, Vain”

Botticelli. Portrait of a young man. Fair use

Some time ago a British magazine was joking on the possibility that Italian men might spend more money on cosmetics than British women.

In an earlier post we had supposed a connection between artistic beauty and narcissism in Italian and Latin cultures.

Now an interesting passage from Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897) on Italian outward refinement during the Renaissance.

“The outward appearance of men and women and the habits of daily life were more perfect, more beautiful, and more polished than among the other nations of Europe. The dwellings of the upper classes fall rather within the province of the history of art; but we may note how far the castle and the city mansion in Italy surpassed in comfort, order, and harmony the dwellings of the northern noble.

Botticelli. Simonetta Vespucci. Fair use

The style of dress varied so continually that it is impossible to make any complete comparison with the fashions of other countries, all the more because since the close of the fifteenth century imitations of the latter were frequent. The costumes of the time, as given us by the Italian painters, are the most convenient, and the most pleasing to the eye which were then to be found in Europe; but we cannot be sure if they represent the prevalent fashion, or if they are faithfully reproduced by the artist. It is nevertheless beyond a doubt that nowhere was so much importance attached to dress as in Italy.

The nation was, and is, vain; and even serious men among it looked on a handsome and becoming costume as an element in the perfection of the individual.

(…) We may note in particular the efforts of the women to alter their appearance by all the means which the toilette could afford. In no country of Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire was so much trouble taken to modify the face, the colour of the skin and the growth of the hair, as in Italy at this time.

(…) The use of perfumes went beyond all reasonable limits. They were applied to everything with which human beings came into contact. At festivals even the mules were treated with scents and ointments, and Pietro Aretino thanks Cosimo I for a perfumed roll of money.”

Note. Quote from Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, 1878. Available as Gutenberg text.

Ψ

If you want to know more:

Can Narcissism Partially Explain the Cult of Beauty in Latin Cultures?
Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

Themes from Man of Roma

The Roman Forum. Click for credits and larger image

I’d love to know
How things got to be
How they are.

[Marilyn Monroe]

Ψ

Here is a first selection of themes from Man of Roma. Each link leads to pages with excerpts from our posts that illustrate the chosen themes. I couldn’t get much into the conversations kicked off by the posts for lack of time. You can have a look yourself since lots of additional materials are in the comments area of the linked posts.

This page is meant for those interested in finding their bearings in the ideas of this blog. You will notice leitmotivs that circulate and I have also chosen themes related to one another.

Another theme selection – to be published not immediately, I don’t want to lose all my readers – will regard the relationships between South and North Europe, Europe and North America, East and West, Great Britain and the Continent and much more.

Ψ

The Human Mind is Like a Museum
The human mind is like a museum since it contains almost infinite traces of past conceptions, from Stone Age onwards. Words, language are an important portion of this museum, but lots of things are there that go way beyond words. In short, a huge disorganized archive we have in our heads and that we should inventory. It’s the activity of this blog, a little bit.

The Legacy of Rome
Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here, and Rome’s legacy is greater than we think.

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea
The Italian and Roman soul is intimately tied to the folks of the Mediterranean. We are all related. Food, plants and plenty of traditions are similar. On a long-period perspective we belong to the same historical stream, to the same area from which some of the great civilizations have germinated on this side of the planet. Of course there are differences among us, but we are not so dissimilar as someone might (or likes to) think. Many behaviours, defined for example as Islamic, actually belong to the ancient past of Mare Nostrum, the context and stage of all that made us the way we are.

Influences of the Classical World
The Greco-Roman classical civilization has moulded the world we live in today. Influences and survivals can be seen in behaviours, arts etc.

Sex and the City (of Rome)
An exploration of Greco-Roman sexuality and of what is left today of such different mores. I have dedicated a series of 5 posts (out of 105) to this theme but the series is always in the ‘top posts’ list on the right column. I wonder why.
I have tried to understand how alien Greco-Roman sex can be vis-à-vi contemporary sexuality, and why things have changed so much since then.

Dialogue Among Civilisations
Some communication has occurred with non Western people, very enriching though not always easy. Great civilizations tend to close-up a bit – noble gases, Ashish, one witty commenter of this blog, called them –  they being like complete in themselves. We had good connection with the Indians. Their good English has helped. Rediscovering one’s heritage doesn’t exclude others, quite the contrary. It means having something peculiar to transmit, in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.

“The deeper one goes into one’s own experience – argued Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – […] the more does one’s experience have in common with the experiences of others […]. The most unique is the most universal. The dialogues of Buddha or of Plato, the dramas of Sophocles, the plays of Shakespeare are both national and universal. The more profoundly they are rooted in historical traditions, the more uniquely do they know themselves and elicit powerful responses from others.”

Survivals of Roman Religion
When talking about religion it is important to understand that history and faith, science and theology fly on different planes and shouldn’t be confused. By Roman religion we mean any cult that was followed in ancient Rome, also foreign ones. As an example, the cult of the Anatolian Kybele, the great mother-goddess, was established on the Palatine Hill in 210 BC, according to Livy. To the historian, anthropologist etc. the number of Roman religion survivals is impressive.

Crisis of Values in Affluent Countries
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new different attitude which can enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes ahead which might cause our swift decline. In Europe especially religion is waning and people sometimes embrace weird beliefs (see below Neo-pagan underground temples in Northern Italy.) Rich countries should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. Nonetheless one has the impression that often void rules and that people don’t know any more which are the right choices in everyday life.

Neo-pagan stunning temples secretly carved out below ground in Northern Italy. Click for source file (Daily Mail)

The Greco-Roman Roots of the West
Similar to the ‘Influences of the Classical World’ but seen from a different viewpoint.

Traces of Paganism in Italians
Sometimes Italians, especially from the South, are considered superstitious. Whatever we mean by this word, these superstitions seem often remnants of the Greco-Roman past. Italians were highly civilized long before Christianity arrived (9-10 centuries earlier,) while many Northern Europeans became civilised together with, and thanks to, Christianity. This couldn’t be without consequences.

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

100 Posts. I’ll Celebrate My Own Way. 2

Fountain 'del Macherone' in via Giulia, Rome, XVII century. Click for credits and larger picture

(Continued from the previous post)

I’m leaving behind my schoolmates and getting to the point, the real blog celebration.

When I was 59 I started blogging the day I realised that my brain functions were a bit declining, or so it seemed to me.

Having scarce stimuli is dangerous when you are in the ‘early autumn of your life’ – to use Delwyn’s romantic expression. My activity in the field of systems engineering was not motivating me any more – even though my job had allowed me to ride the wave of the computer revolution.

Looking for new stimuli in my old passions I then started Man of Roma.

Piazza della Rotonda Fountain. Rome. Click for creditsMy desire for rewiring my synapses together with my personal inclination have slanted my writings toward the thoughtful side. Man of Roma saw its birth as a research on big themes which might seem a bit ambitious at first, if the approach weren’t that of the man of the street, or, as Mario put it, that of a coffee talk with friends – though going somewhere I do hope, and not nowhere!

After 20 months and 100 posts I can say this ‘discipline’ has worked fine. My brain is working better, my memory has improved (although my absent-mindedness has increased.)

I can thus testify that two teachings of my mentor were very effective, among the rest.

Writing, he used to say, is a stern discipline tightly linked to 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…

A second element I derived from Magister is the importance of discussion and feedback to reach a better knowledge (dialectics.) I’m happy that, despite the heaviness of some themes, conversations in my blog are often longer, more interesting and have more text than the post that had started them.

I had the great pleasure to write, joke, talk or seriously discuss with people so various – and here I thank my wonderful commenters, ALL of them! – whose incitement and contribution have really kept me going.

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

We will see in the next post a first selection of themes from Man of Roma, with links to special pages I’ll have just created to sort out things a bit.

See you soon then.

100 Posts. I’ll Celebrate My Own Way. 1

This me at dinner in San Francisco last Semptember

Some time ago my friend Mario, who never writes comments but reads friends’ blogs, called me saying:

“Is this coffee talk going anywhere?”

He referred to my posts and to the dialogues with my readers. We make fun of each other since we were 14, so it is all right. But since my blog has reached a bit more than 100 writings (105,) a little celebration is appropriate together with a sort of assessment of whether this is really just coffee writing. I have then thought to answer him officially in this way.

I’ll write a few blog or site maps [update: see the 1rst] containing reasoned summaries of the ideas expressed in the Man of Roma’s blog, with links to the corresponding posts, notes and conversations.

These posts will not be written in tight succession – it would be too heavy – and will be to the benefit of those interested in finding their bearings in our “coffee musings” – an interesting American blog is called Café Philos, a nice name it’d be vile to steal.

Not that Mario needs any answer. He already had many on the phone, with four-letter words. Our classroom style btw, a bit unleashed to tell the truth.

We were all males, the only unhappy exception in our school due to the headmaster’s unfathomable genius, so we lacked that element of moderation, gentleness – the woman –  that makes boys a little bit more civilised (and careful.)

I remember the last time (one year ago) we had a classroom celebration at a restaurant. Imagine ten well-dressed professional-looking 60-year-old men sitting at an elegant restaurant table in down town Rome and turning gradually into 10 unleashed kids once food and especially wine had started to work on us.

The waitress who was serving our table had to blush a few times. She of course was one of the targets of our joyful (and childish) attention. A couple of us especially are socially unacceptable – Marken Albus, for example – whenever they find their old buddies back. I confess I sometimes felt terribly embarrassed. But I’m being a bit hypocritical. I had huge fun and, who knows, the waitress a bit too perhaps, since she was blushing though smiling at us and I think she kept coming to our table more often than necessary.

The show was actually unusual. I doesn’t happen all the time to see ten apparently serious 60-year-old men turn into absolute morons and behave like kids.

When we are together we are bad, very bad. Fortunately it doesn’t happen very often.

(to be continued)