As you know I have been musing on Pythagoras of Samos recently (Ὁ Πυθαγόρας ὁ Σάμιος). I wrote about him in my blog and in other blogs.
P was a great mathematician. Now it turns almost all bloggers MoR has been discussing with (also on P) have some math capabilities. MoR has instead very little. So he asked his friend Extropian for help.
Extropian is laconic and doesn’t like blogs. So he first sent this movie and just said: “This stuff is Pythagorean.”
He also sent me this paper on Pythagoras & Eugene Wigner that requires a degree in physics to figure out what the hell it means.
Finally he linked to another movie and declared:
“You (more or less) are a pianist but you’ll always be longing for the strings of a guitar, of a violin or of a lute. Pythagoras started a new world-view with the strings of a lyre. You may like this.”
I hope this will not be the music of the future (only because it sounds too robotic). But the 3d animation intuitively shows better than any book on acoustics the relation between the string lengths and the sounds: ie by pressing the strings the robotic fingers change their lengths which produces a change in pitch.
And my friend is right. From the age of 12 I was a decent guitarist then I turned into a pianist at 18, a big mistake, one out of many.
A Crazy Night of Revel
In the spring of 1995 – I’m only apparently digressing – my wife and I came back home from a party. Oh we had had such fun! She though went straight to bed being tired from a hard day at her office. I remained alone in the living room, feeling weird and restless.
There I saw my electronic keyboard, a Korg 01 WFD – now prehistoric – connected to a Mac and two Protei (Proteus 1 and 2.) Before laying my hands on the glowing keys I knew what I needed that night: fat strings sounds more than just piano sounds.
The result was a dozen improvisations that lead to nowhere (l’improvvisazione non porta a nulla, in italiano) and sound now so badly because of analogical worn out tapes and especially when compared to the pro stuff you’ve heard above. They though retain a personal value to me and they ex-press (in the literal meaning of ‘squeeze out’) one of the most authentic musical revelry I ever experienced in my life.
I mean, if Dionysus-Bacchus ever exists I’m pretty sure I met him that night. Another mysterious Dionysian experience is described here. And, Pythagoras and the Dionysian cult are connected, so no digression as I said (in fact Pythagoras was a reformer of Orphism via science. Orpheus was a reformer via music of the religion of Dionysos, the god of wine and unrestrained madness).
3-4 pieces out of 12 I still like a bit. I’m waiting for my digital DAT recorder to be repaired so I can have better sources for my musical ramblings.
A man-to-man thing, after an earlier post on how different women and men can be (see the original in Italian.)
Rome, April 2004. 6 o’clock of a cold but bright morning.
I am looking at the Roman rooftops, sitting in my terrace. It’s almost dawn and I’m cold.
You know, I had two sisters and 8 female first cousins and I met him when we were 3-4. He therefore became my eldest brother.
My Eldest Brother
I have heard him on the telephone the night before after many years of silence.
So now on my terrace on the first shred of paper I found I’m quickly jotting down the words I have in my head for fear of forgetting them.
Words thrown spontaneously – and a bit savage too perhaps.
1950s-1960s remote, antediluvian stuff?
What can I say, we lived in immediate post-war Italy. Judge for yourself.
For My Eldest Brother
My friend, companion of happy adventures
during the prime of life,
at 6 in a Roman morning,
a cold breeze running over the rooftops
of a pagan city,
you, companion and brother,
I here come to celebrate
as in an ancient rite,
a pencil splashing words
rapidly on a page,
words alive, unlaboured.
You taught me to enjoy this life,
its primordial side and strength;
I, more fearful,
brought up in a world of women,
was taught by you manly ways,
the male attributes, or nuts,
that you always had,
and have: do not forget!
Oh fuck, male attributes,
may the Lord be thanked!
In a world full of empty
jaded and phony people,
you always were an example,
my friend and brother,
of strength and courage
much more than my father.
You – and my mother’s brothers
so dear and much much loved.
And my father,
who meant a great deal,
from him I took other things.
But you were so much to me.
One more year is a lot
when one is so young,
It helps to establish a primacy
that I always have recognized you.
And here, on this small terrace
of the city of Rome,
in front of the ancient temples
of our primogenial culture,
I honour you,
my eldest brother;
I celebrate you, that primacy still recognizing
not solely because of age.
At this point red wine I would drink
(but it is early in the morning…)
the full-bodied red Tuscan wine
of our wonderful winter evenings
in our countryside – do you recall? –
when, roasted meat over embers
the Dionysian pleasures
of meat and wine you delivered
and of the women
taken by the hair
and gently, strongly,
The breeze is now warmer.
Words begin to fail.
I only hope,
dear friend, my strong companion
and eldest brother,
to have conveyed to you
these memories, these emotions
during abrupt awakening
after a phone call.
[Translation by Geraldine]
[This sweet, generous Celtic woman
is not responsible for the ‘bad words’
that are mine since how
could she understand them
plus Google translator
doesn’t provide help on that]
Note. I had talked to him the night before on the phone, as I’ve said. We hadn’t seen or talked to each other since years.
That is probably why I woke with a start at 5:30 am with my head so full of that joy – the years of infancy and adolescence, any reader knows them: we spent them together in the Arezzo’s countryside every single summer of the 1950s-1960s .
Joys (and sorrows) but all lived with exuberance and almost violent intensity.
He had a house across from mine but when we first saw each other over the wall (I was alone, he with his grandma, a gentle lady as of from an old-time painting, we had 3-4 years) we did not like each other at all. He looked prissy and too well-groomed to my taste.
Then one day his mother took him to our house for an official visit (the two mums were close friends). Disturbed we were a bit so we began to throw pebbles at a can placed at 10 yards from where we were on a stone table, just to kill moodiness. He was a year older.
The throwing-pebbles-at-a-can thing triggered ALL. We have never left each other since then (apart from a few intervals.) Thing being our brains knew how to fly together, and we laughed and laughed and we laughed out loud. His mind, odd and humorous, was rich with ideas.
In the picture below I am 18. From then on we had the first break. A long one.
Now that we are old (or almost) we feel even closer and there won’t be intervals any more.
It’s this desire we have to stay close at the end of a marvellous adventure we did begin together, in the company also of the loved ones from his side and from my side – who make our life more human (and who console us of its miseries.)
Read 2 of our first adventures with the ‘other sex’:
A man-to-man thing, after the previous post on how different women and men can be.
Roma, aprile 2004. Le 6 di una mattina fredda ma luminosa. Guardo i tetti di Roma. Sono seduto nella mia terrazza. E’ quasi l’alba e ho freddo.
Avevo risentito il mio amico la sera prima al telefono dopo tanti anni di silenzio. Scrivo velocemente a matita sul primo pezzaccio di carta che trovo parole che ho in testa, per paura di dimenticarle.
Parole buttate là, piene di emozione, forse anche un po’ selvagge.
Roba da anni 50s-60s, da epoca remota e superata?
Che volete che vi dica, era l’Italia del dopoguerra, giudicherete voi.
Al mio fratello maggiore
Amico mio, compagno
di scorribande felici
nella fase più piena della vita,
alle 6 di un mattino romano,
la fredda brezza che corre
sui tetti di una città pagana,
io te, compagno mio e fratello,
qui vengo a celebrare
come in un rito antico,
schizzando con la matita
rapide su un foglio
parole vive e non lavorate.
Mi hai insegnato a godere della vita
l’aspetto primordiale e forte;
io, con più timore,
cresciuto in un mondo femminile,
il lato virile mi hai insegnato,
quello con gli attributi,
che hai sempre avuto,
non lo dimenticare!
E cazzo vivaddio gli attributi!
In un mondo spompato
pieno di gente vuota stanca fasulla,
sei sempre stato esempio,
caro fratello mio,
di forza e di coraggio,
molto più che mio padre;
tu, e i miei zii materni,
i carissimi e amati
fratelli di mia madre.
A mio padre,
che pure ha significato tanto,
devo altre cose,
ma tu sei stato molto per me,
un anno in più vuol dire,
quando si è giovanissimi:
aiuta a stabilire il primato
che sempre ti ho riconosciuto.
E qui, in questa piccola terrazza
della città di Roma,
di fronte ai templi antichi
della nostra cultura primigenia,
io qui ti onoro,
fratello mio maggiore;
io qui ti celebro,
quel primato ancora riconoscendo
che non fu solo d’età.
A questo punto vino rosso berrei
(ma è mattino presto…)
il vino rosso forte, toscano,
di quelle serate d’inverno
della nostra campagna.
In cui tu,
la carne arrostita sulle braci,
i piaceri dionisiaci consegnavi
della carne, del vino
e delle femmine prese per i capelli,
e dolcemente, fortemente,
La brezza ora è più calda.
Le parole cominciano a mancare.
amico caro, forte mio compagno
e fratello maggiore,
di averti comunicato
le mie emozioni al brusco risveglio
dopo una telefonata.
Nota. L’avevo sentito la sera prima al telefono. Non ci eravamo rivisti da anni.
Per questo mi sono svegliato di soprassalto alle 5:30, con la testa piena di quella gioia, e che gioia (gli anni dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza li conoscete tutti): noi li passammo insieme ogni singola estate nella campagna aretina degli anni 50s-60s.
Emozioni, anche dolori.
Ma tutto vissuto con esuberanza ed intensità quasi violente.
Aveva la casa di fronte alla mia ma quando ci vedemmo oltre i muri la prima volta (io solo, lui con la nonna, una cara signora d’altri tempi, avevamo 3-4 anni) non ci piacemmo affatto. Lui mi sembrava perfettino, troppo ben pettinato.
Poi un giorno sua madre lo portò da noi ufficialmente (le due mamme erano molto amiche). Contrariati cominciammo a tirare i sassi a un barattolo messo su un tavolo di pietra, così, tanto per vincere la scontrosità. Aveva un anno più di me.
Il gioco del tiro al barattolo fece scattare tutto. Da allora non ci siamo più lasciati, anche se con intervalli. I nostri cervelli sapevano volare insieme, e ridevamo, ridevamo, ridevamo a crepapelle. Aveva una mente bizzarra, umoristica, piena di idee.
Qui sotto ho 18 anni. Dì li in poi ci fu il primo intervallo. Lungo.
Adesso che siamo vecchi o quasi ci sentiamo ancora più vicini e non ci saranno intervalli.
Credo che sia la voglia di finire l’avventura meravigliosa cominciata insieme, anche con tutte le altre persone care accanto a lui e accanto a me, che ci rendono la vita più umana (e ci consolano delle sue miserie).
“Inspired by Richard’s musing about Christmas – she said – I just discovered the term: ‘Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time ….’ Sounds like fun.”
So here we are Dafna, although my mind is blurred by all this saturnalian revels, starting in Italy on Dec. 24 and ending with the Epiphany, Gen. 6.
Quite a long time isn’t it.
Ma poi ecco l’Epifania che tutte le feste si porta via.
Saturn & the Golden Age
Saturn, the Roman god of seed and sowing, very ancient according to sources, had his temple built at the foot of the Capitoline hill. It housed a wooden (later ivory) statue of the god filled with oil, holding a scythe and whose feet bound with woollen threads were released only in the days of the Saturnalia – Dec. 17 onward.
The temple was rebuilt three times and today’s eight-column remnants (see the image below) represent what is left of its last remaking.
It is no coincidence, I believe, that the temple also housed what was most precious in Rome (coins, ingots etc.,) ie the city treasury or aerarium. Why?
Because to the Roman mind Saturn – who defeated by his son Jupiter had found refuge in Latium, on the Capitol – had brought to the Romans and Latins the mythical Golden Age (Aurea Aetas,) an era of bliss when men were equal, laws not necessary, spring eternal, earth spontaneously offering its blonde corn and rivers of milk and nectar marvellously flowing.
Words from the Past
Mario: “Wow, the Golden Age. Were men of solid gold too?” MoR: “Possibly. Yes, if I well interpreted Lucian’s Saturnalia.”
Let us then listen to the arcane words of Ovid just to catch glimpses of it all (Metamorphoses, I, 89 & ff.)
aurea prima est aetas (the Golden Age is first) sponte sua sine lege fidem rectumque colebat (which spontaneously, without laws, the true and the good nurtured) nec supplex turba timebat iudicis ora suis, sed erant sine vindice tuti (no crowd of suppliants fearing their judge’s face: they lived safely without protection) mollia peragebant otia gentes (in soft peace people spent their lives ) ver erat aeternum (Spring was eternal) per se dabat omnia tellus … fruges inarata ferebat (by itself earth gave all … wheat, unmanured, bore) flumina iam lactis, iam flumina nectaris ibant (sometimes rivers of milk flowed, sometimes streams of nectar)
Re-enacting a Lawless Age
Now it is clear that the Saturnalia was a sort of re-enactment of such primordial, lawless age when men lived in equality and abundance of all.
During Saturnalia the rich gifts of the earth were celebrated with feasts and banquets where celebrators, heated with wine, were allowed to trans-gress unto higher (sometimes lower) states of mind which could include wild games, spirituality, esoteric acts, gambling, sexual promiscuity, exchange of gifts, and where slaves were given the broadest license which reminded the ancient rule of equality amongst men. Many similar ancient collective ceremonies (like the rites of Dionysus known in Rome as the Bacchanalia) were often referred to by the Greek term ὄργια or the Roman term orgia.
[Note that the old terms are only partially connected with the modern term ‘orgy’, if only for the fact that they had a religious character]
Unlike the cult of Saturn almost unknown outside Latium, Saturnalia became the most popular festival in every province of the empirerelished by the people of any social condition until the triumph of Christianity.
The Christians couldn’t entirely abolish Saturnalia so they absorbed it into Christmas and this pagan festival survived also in other disguised forms as we shall see (in Italy, England, Germany, France etc.)
Let us try to better understand. A few aspects of Saturnalia may in fact sound weird to us modern people.
Cycles and Rites of Passage
Saturnalia belonged to those rituals typical of the most ancient agricultural cultures all the over world.
Such cultures had a cyclic more than a linear view of time.
Universe, history repeated themselves in an eternal return to mythical ages in a way that the end of a cycle (light, sun, year, moon or season cycles) coincided with a new beginning; that dissolution coincided with regeneration; that chaos, lawlessness and transgression transmuted themselves into a new order where people felt renewed and ready to get back to norm.
These passages were celebrated in festivals where “such dissolution – Chiara O. Tommasi Moreschini argues – we notice in the overturning of social hierarchy and in sexual promiscuity, a way to achieve fertility; we notice it in Sacaea, a festival in Babylon or in Pontus in honour of the goddess Ishtar or Anaitis which included, among the rest, a king disguised as servant; in the Zagmuk celebrated in Mesopotamia at the beginning of the year and comprising both sexual license and a symbolic dethroning of the king; in the Kronia [in Athens and Attica, MoR] and in the Roman Saturnalia [Roman Saturn and Greek Kronos sort of merged] but also in women-only festivals like the Greek Thesmophoria [in honour of Demeter] or like the Bona Dea rituals in Rome [of which a description is in our Sex and the city (of Rome) 2] where women were offered a chance to indulge in some excess in their own way.”
Traces in Modern Minds
Now I believe this whole spiritual past (plus the evelasting effects of nature changes) left deep traces in today’s minds. We still feel this deeply emotional (and sometimes distressing) end-beginning of something during the Christmas / New Year festivities, like a seismic shift that takes hold of us a bit. And at the same time we feel the family sweetness and Christian religious vibrations.
Which brings us to Christ’s birth.
Saturnalia, the Sun God & Christ’s Birth
Given the popularity of Saturnalia the founders of Christianity desiring to win the pagans to the new faith absorbed the Saturnalia into the celebrations of the birth of Christ.
Now, when was Christ born? No one knew exactly – although some biblical evidence suggests Spring.
It was Pope Julius I who in 350 CE chose Dec. 25 (winter solstice according to Caesar’s calendar.) Which proved a wise decision not only because of Saturnalia end date but also because in that same 12/25 the birth of Mithra / Sol Invictus, the sun god, had long been celebrated – the winter solstice being in fact the death-rebirth of the sun.
And, it must be said, the sun god in all his forms was very popular. Before it was gradually replaced by Christianity Sol Invictus was actually the official cult of the late Roman empire.
Extropian: “According to Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ) “few Christians today realize that in the 5th century CE [so 4 centuries after the birth of Christ!] pope Leo the Great had to tell Church members to stop worshipping the sun.” ”
Mario: “I read something in a forum: this “rumour that the Saturnalia generally degenerated into a big party with orgy and drinking … it’s ironic in that Christians use this day to celebrate the birth of their Saviour who came to save them from such sins.”
MoR: “Well, as I have said, we all feel – a Westerly universal feeling – like a strange conflict during these holidays: between holiness and fun, excess and good-will, religious /family feelings and pagan consumerism.”
MoR: “A conflict generated perhaps by that old compromise – eg the adaptation of Pagan rites to Christian rites – and absent probably at the times of the Saturnalia, when trans-gression and religion (trans-gression in the original sense of ‘going beyond’, from Latin trans + gradior) were not always separated as they are today. On the contrary, they at times coincided. τὰ ὄργια or orgiae, characteristic of mystery cults, were a supremely mystical & ethical experience, which is incomprehensible today, after almost two thousand years of Christianity.”
Now our vague-logic conversation, but let me say I’ve got another great tool for brain re-juicing outside blog dialectic: my Haman, or thermae, or simply my ‘thermal’ bath(room.)
No big deal, just a small place of comfort to test the effects of cold and hot water (& steam showers plus gymnastics,) and where many of the things I ponder get unexpected solutions (see Relax & Creativity.)
The Ancients, Do We Idealize Them?
Andreas:“Cheri speaks as though from my own heart in lamenting the Greeks. How, oh how, to reconcile their ancient grandeur with their Euro-busting, book-cooking financial profligacy of today?”
[Cheri, another great blogger and about to go to Athens, had expressed preoccupation for the riots etc. See the picture at the top, MoR]
Thomas Stazyk: “One of the Greek protesters was interviewed on BBC and said: “They [gov’t officials] stole all the money. Then they borrowed more money and stole that!”
MoR: “Allow me to disagree a bit here. I won’t discuss here the Greek failure – linked to Greek sins surely, but also to problems created elsewhere.
As I said over at Cheri’s, the beauty of going to Greece, to parts of Southern Italy (even to Rome), Turkey, Northern Africa etc. is the time machine thing. We don’t go there to see things working – if we want just that we should keep going to Sweden, North Germany or the US. When we go to the Med – or even more to India etc. – we go to see places and especially people – not only monuments – caught in the past, living remnants of an ancient world we are not always satisfied to admire from a library. This is the beauty of such trips. Of course there is a price to be paid. My daughter, 26, is now working in Mumbai for a month. She has started to love Mumbai immensely, but she is also paying a price for it.
This for today’s survivals of the past. As for the ancients themselves, Cheri suspects she is idealizing them a bit. I do it often too. But if we read attentively the ancient Greek texts (the Roman ones are no different) we don’t have only Pericles or Aristotle, but horrible poverty, thousands of slaves abused or, even worse, dying slowly in the Athenian silver mines, child prostitution widespread in ways not easily imaginable, the Macedonians (Alexander and his father included) ending up their dinners in wild and drunken orgies most of the time.
In the oration against Neaira, [pseudo] Demosthenes reconstructs with horrifying details 50 years of the life of a prostitute. It is a depiction of what could have been the life of an outcast in 4th century BCE Greece.”
Douglas: “MoR, it is always the elites we are told of in the histories. Those who ruled, who were influential, who owned property, who were the ‘movers and shakers’ of whatever society (or culture) we delve into. The life of the common citizen is seldom mentioned.”
MoR: “Douglas, there’s not only the histories (and often even the histories are non conventional, like Herodotus and Suetonius, or even Plutarch) but all sorts of comedies, and novels, Greek and Roman, that depict everyday life (upper and lower classes and slaves too), plus, as I said, the speeches of the lawyers full of realistic details, & satires mocking follies (Juvenal etc.) or epigrams like Martial’s, so colourful but also shocking for their details on brutality in Rome. I mean, there’s plenty of records of the ancients’ everyday life, which may sounds often disgusting to us (they had different ethical codes) and totally non puritanical. I am not that expert in any case, I am just a dilettante having fun connecting the modern and ancient – a very ‘edgy’ place antiquity. My problem is this language. I write in English with all sort of dictionaries. Fascinating, but painful.”
Douglas: “Please do not misunderstand me but who wrote those histories? All writing, all observations, reflects the perspective of the writer. In that, they are written as they are seen, not as they perhaps are.
Take any given incident, collect the witnesses, ask them what happened. Only by a collection of perspectives can one gain a knowledge of what actually occurred. Even in that there is an element of bias on the part of the one piecing it together.
So, yes, I am sure the life of an average Roman was not all orgies, high living, and wine-soaked afternoons at the Colosseum. Life was cruel for those who had no family connections, money, or position of power. It does not take a genius to figure this out.
But histories do not reflect the average person’s life. They reflect the life of those in power, those with influence, and those who achieved.
Or, put another way, you do not learn how the scribe lived but how his patron did.
I could ask you, what is the life of the average Roman today? You would answer from your perspective. You might not understand how life is for the people who deliver the goods to the market or keep the phones working or whose family must all work in order to pay the bills.
In the end, it comes down to what is the ‘average person’ and how that status is determined.”
“But histories do not reflect the average person’s life.
Of course they don’t, although I don’t get what you mean by histories. Surely life of the ancients was not all orgies or wine soaked days spent at the Colosseum, but it seems likely it did not know the sexual repression of Christianity [see above Augustine, too an ‘open-minded’ Pagan first, too a strict Christian later], at least at certain periods, conditions, places. And, frankly, I don’t see what’s the big deal about it.
I could ask you, what is the life of the average Roman today? You would answer from your perspective.
The ancients we will probably never know who they really were but what is certain is, they were VERY different. Take a god like Dionysus Bacchus, worshipped by the poor and the rich alike, almost all around ritual madness, ecstasy and, basically, eroticism: it is painted sculpted carved EVERYWHERE in both Rome and Greece.
The term ’the ancients’ is of course too vague. There are plenty of scholars’ books depicting everyday life – for different classes – in 5th century Athens or Augustus’ Rome or Alexandria at the times of this or that monarch. They are just guesses based on the sources we have which is not much but it is growing because research is progressing (for example we see the reasons of the Fall of Rome quite differently now from what we thought, say, 50 years ago, but I am shifting).
We will never know what was the real life of a Roman at Caesar’s time, for example, like, even for today, you are right, my testimony of contemporary Rome is certainly subjective and partial, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
Douglas:“Let me put it another way, my friend… What do you suppose the literacy rate was in, say, ancient Rome?
Of current times and high (comparatively to ancient times) literacy rates, what percentage of people visit our vast array of museums, operas, ballets, and such?I say we can only know what we are told and what we are told is dictated by the mindsets, biases, and consciences of those that can pass the knowledge on. We cannot know what is true.”
I’ve always found Giovanni Boccaccio‘s Decameron philosophically inspiring. Incidentally, this masterpiece works also as a signal, possibly, that at the end of the Middle Ages some freer sexual mores were surfacing back from antiquity.
Following this boccaccescaispirazione I have given a sudden twist to a peaceful conversation with dear-to-me blog buds and made a ‘licentious’ story out of it (after asking them for permission.)
The original conversation is basically untouched.
Only from the ‘Amanda, Drinks and Bears’ section onward things get ehm weird a bit (due to MoR’s fancy only, not my buds’, please bear in mind.)
Licentious here means not lascivious but it refers to the original Latin meaning of licentia, ie ‘behaviour with some freedom’.
So here’s the story, at the end of which you will read an invitation from MoR.
[Minors are requested not to read any further]
In The Solitude of a Canadian Cottage …
Three blogger buds, Giulia, Paul and Giorgio (MoR,) finally decide to really meet (in their minds) and to spend their New Year’s eve in an unpretentious cottage in Canada. After placid conversation and toasting Amanda & a family of polar bears join the party.
It is to be said that it is exceptional, these kind of bears venturing South like that in desperate search for food. But let us not digress since after the bears arrive things get a bit out of hand.
The cottage is cosy and warm though isolated up North. It had been previously inhabited by Latin-Americans. The outside temperature is -20° C ( or -4 F). The three friends are conversing placidly in front of a fireplace.
Giulia. Yes Paul, Happy New Year to us. Thanks for a wonderful friendship.
Paul. Blogging is a strange thing. In a way it replaces the letter writing of yesteryears; however those letters were exchanged between two individuals, a blog is a wide open public thing. Yet on short order there develops a relationship between bloggers quite akin to genuine friendship, and international to boot.
When I began blogging last spring little did I figure that I would develop a link with a NYorker, a Roman and a Laval guy that I never met, and probably never will meet. Still I have the impression that I know them and can be quite close to them…despite some differences whether political, cultural or social.
Yes Giulia, it is wonderful.
Happy New Year.
Giorgio. Paul, Giulia, I’m back from Sicily, which literally blew my mind … [He stands up]
Happy New Year to the dear Canadian sage plus witty companion of so many discussions.
Happy New Year to our generous Giulia sharing her warmth and intelligence with so many of us.
And Happy New Year to the exuberant, unpredictable Commish, the dear Laval brat!
[They toast, also to absent Commish’s health]
Paul. MoR, Glad you enjoyed Sicily and escaped Etna’s wrath.
Retired Soldier to Retired Soldier
Giorgio. I heard in fact some tremblement de terre but had faith the Sicilian gods would spare the only person who basically hasn’t forgotten them (outside Sicily.)
Paul. I’m currently reading a book titled Le Christ Païen by Tom Harpur. It traces the parallels between Christian and Pagan beliefs. Astonishing.
Giorgio. I have checked in the French wiki. Donc, un prêtre anglican qui thinks l’existence de Jésus n’est pas evident. Merci. Could be useful. In Sicily I have visited Catania and most of all Siracusa. Toutes les deux, hanno la loro santa patrona, che è come una dea, like a goddess. The devotion people have for these two saints is beyond imagination. Catania has Sant’Agata, Syracuse Santa Lucia, deity of light also for the Northern Europeans, being so sun-starved and all. I have collected stuff for 20 posts but I’ll make 2 out of it, lest I lose all my readers.
Giulia, Paul, I’m getting at ease with my retirement, and also have to thank my blog for it, but most of all, the people I have met.
Paul. Retirement is a great period for doing all we always wanted to but never could do. It is not the end of our productive life, it’s the beginning of another kind of productivity and creativity, providing we do not let go.
Onward retired soldiers.
Giorgio. Ah ah ah. Yes Paul, onward, retired soldier to retired soldier. You made me laugh.
Paul. Laughing is excellent for one’s health.
Giulia. Good to see you are promoting laughter. Add a strong drink now and then, wonderful meals as often as one can, and life is as good as it can be when our wings are tired, our resources limited, and, our prospects for adventure, stuff we just dream about.
Good to see also that the weather is not getting you down, Paul.
Canadian Yearly Cycle
Paul. Weather wise we Canadians are tough hombres. You see it keeps our hoping capacity at it’s peak all year round. In winter we hope for spring’s balmy weather, then we wait for summer and it’s blissful farniente, while sweating away we hope for autumn foliage and it’s splendours followed by hoping winter will not be too harsh, and the cycle resumes.
Of course, in winter hot toddy and Rhum keep us happy, in summer a nice cold beer does it and all year round good wine and food are staples of a happy Canuck’s life.
It is said we are boring…and I am happy with that.
Giorgio. Weather wise Canadians: nice concept and depiction of the yearly psychological cycle, one of your gems, Paul. Canuck? You guys teach me so many words! And yes, I’d love more cold weather to be able to drink A LOT MORE than I can in Rome.
Amanda, Drinks and Bears
Amanda [suddenly knocking at the window from outside]. Yikes on all levels! Double yikes!
Paul. [He turns around and smiles at Amanda, but doesn’t notice the bears and especially Amanda being an object of curiosity to them.] Alcohol and cold do not mix well. You, briefly, feel a bit warmer after a stiff shot of Scotch or Gin, but it soon vanishes and you feel even colder…so another shot, when you have had one too many you feel sleepy…and you freeze to death if outside and alone.
Besides, cold slows your metabolism. Better stay in Rome, you’ll live longer.
Giorgio. I had heard about this alcohol thing [weird shrieks from outside. Nobody notices]. Paul, this conversation, it is so beautiful. It is good in this moment I’m about to change my life.
[They then pass to explore the differences between Scotch and Jamaican Rhum, with no objection to salt-rimmed margarita glasses. They sip this and that. Conversation quietly unfolds.]
Amanda is still outside. She desperately tries to knock at the window again, but the bears don’t let her. They grab her merrily and start dancing the Ring a Ring o’ Roses with her.
Other shrieks (plus groans) finally catch the attention of the people within who, looking out the window, much to their surprise realise Amanda is now actually fighting against the bears. She is so brave that the two men feel inclined to go back to their alcohol experiments.
NO. They have to rise up (Giulia’s unwavering idea) and exit the cottage with guns and sleeping bullets in them (Paul’s idea) just to make the darn bears fall asleep a bit.
After the shooting occurs not without difficulty they are though afraid the poor bears would die in the cold so dead asleep and fluffy they are. They so drag them into the house and up to the fireplace (MoR’s idea, he’s so proud to say.)
Now the group is composed of Giulia, Amanda, Paul, Giorgio and the bears, who by the way wake up.
“They first wanted to eat us up – Paul and Giorgio later told the people in a pub close by (1200 mi.) – but then they realised we are good people, so they accepted our meat and, the all of us, we chanted, we talked and drank and we all had lovely conversation together.” The people in the pub were now staring at them.
“Oh we got high (we were already.) Oh we got soo high. And we made the ladies happy. And after the ladies the bears. And the bears made the ladies happy, and a big party began where much joy was exchanged during the entire night.”
The bears in the end were cheerful but also a bit surprised. They hadn’t thought about this new form of entertainment. So the voice spread among their population and a big migration southward began, not entirely unnoticed by satellites and TV.
The Canadians, both the men and the women, were starting to feel awkward.
Now the invitation.
MoR is inviting willing readers
to bring in a comment to this post
with his/her original ‘licentious’ story to share, for some innocent fun.
You can also contribute anonymously. The stories, also very short (1-2-3 liners) and not necessarily in the style of Boccaccio will be accepted (in English or French, Italian and German) only if compliant with the following rules:
No vulgarity, crudity of language or situation.
Humour is requested but not required
(although it makes things lighter.)
No ‘pleasure and sin’ morbidity.
Sunlit sex, pls, with a gentle touch, and
(on sweet ladies’ request)
Love, divine Tormentor,
Applies here too.
Friends of the Man of Roma! Whatthe heck are you waiting for? 🙂
I once wrote that good food will not be missing in our discussions, together with good music and plenty of delicious wine.
Ok, wine, I have in my hand, a good Primitivo di Puglia.
Good pasta, I’ve just had, Spaghetti al pomodoro con pecorino.
Watch and listen to THIS.
[Felt like paying a little tribute to the German culture and to the British humour – delightful but irreverent sketch, Paul notes below in his comment. Pretty nice contrast the Germans and the British, I’d add, so many little neuroses dividing this petty though adorable Europe…
UPDATE: Just a few hours ago Berlusconi was hit in the face with a model of Milan’s cathedral and knocked to the ground.
He had just finished a speech during a political rally in the centre of the Italian Northern city. According to ANSA the alleged attacker had received many years of treatment for mental disease. Berlusconi is now being taken care of in a Milan hospital and his condition doesn’t seem serious.
A signal of how harsh the political climate is getting in our country, and a horrible gesture to be firmly condemned whatever opinion we may have of Berlusconi and his policy.
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.
We already know that these frescoes, mosaics, statues etc. shocked the Victorians so much (see our first Post on Roman Sex).
Additionally, an interesting account in French of the best of them (60, with corresponding beautiful lithographs) was written by an unknown author, a certain ‘Colonel Fanin’ (or Famin? A Mistake in the English translation? see later) and published I guess illegally in 1816 in a limited edition by a French antiquarian (Stanislas Marie César Famin: ‘Colonel Fanin’ himself I guess) with the help of the Neapolitans (this French guy and Rome’s Greek cousins were such terrible brats, weren’t they.)
[On the matter, a History today‘s take; a good French blog’s take]
It is revealing (and funny) how 19th Century Europe got so scared of this book. All known original copies were destroyed by the French government though two at least survived. One was hidden in the private case of the British Museum, another ended up in the Library of Congress in Washington. I am pretty sure some billionaire possesses some other copy somewhere in the world.
In 1871 the book was translated into English and went through many pirate (and forbidden) editions. It can now be viewed in the Internet, the problem of the English copy it comes from being the horrible colour separations of the reproduced lithographs.
We do not need to show you all the lithographs and the corresponding comments since you can browse them yourself. These comments seem to me both highly cultivated and captivating. The author appears torn between aroused curiosity, admiration and condemnation.
Below you can see Plate VI (Invocation to Priapus) reproducing a bas-relief which depicted a married couple performing a home sacrifice to this God of fertility.
Here is the comment by the author:
“EVERYTHING in this bas-relief indicates an interior scene, an act of candour and piety, and not a disgusting orgy. The a married pair, clad as decently as the nature of the sacrifice to which they are about to proceed will allow, seem to be asking the god who presides over generation to put an end to a grievous sterility; the expressive gestures of the woman, especially, bear out this explanation. The husband is occupied in stretching out a curtain which is to veil from profane eyes the mysteries of the sacrifice”…
“The god, represented with the figure of a bald-headed and bearded old man, reposes on a little column, before which we observe a kind of altar erected in haste by the married pair, on which they have placed some oak-leaves and the pine-apple which surmounted the thyrsus of the priestesses of Bacchus.”
The Image in Plate XLVIII ( 48 ) reproduces a fresco from Pompeii. It is much more erotic and equally unconventional compared to today’s sexual manners.
“A YOUNG and beautiful married couple are amorously toying on a small bed. A lighted lamp shows that the scene takes place at night-time … the young man is carelessly stretched on his back, while his obliging companion, seated astraddle over him, is left to perform the principal part. In the background may be seen the cubicular slave, who is attentively watching the voluptuous pastime, and seems to be even looking on it with a lustful eye–
Masturbabantur phrygii post ostia servi,
Hectoreo quoties sederat uxor equo.”
Well, I won’t translate these two verses by the Roman poet Martial, but the cubicular ( = in bedroom) slave was common and had to serve his/her masters whenever requested.
Scenes like this have been realised in the 2005 HBO/BBC TV series Rome, “a fictionalized account of Caesar’s rise and fall” (Wikipedia.)
People were mainly shocked by these and other sex scenes, also those who praised the TV series (many did, critics included.) I think it was a pretty good experiment aiming at showing some Roman history together with pre-Christian sexual (and non sexual) habits. The latter didn’t save the series since the former was too heavy for contemporary audiences.
I liked the series though – one of the finest reconstructions of Ancient Rome I’ve ever saw- and I highly recommend it.
“This fresco – we are getting back to our mysterious author – is not without merit as regards its execution. The woman appears strong and well-formed; her fair hair falls over her shoulders in wavy curls. The man is beardless, but his stature is tall, and everything about him denotes a youth full of vigour and fire. The bed, a very inconvenient one for such sports, is … supported by four legs, too slender to resist long if they were not made of iron, a custom which has been perpetuated down to our own day in the south of Italy. It is, nevertheless, possible that this piece of furniture … was composed of a substance more precious than gold, for at the period of the decline, to which this painting belongs, luxury was carried to such a degree among the Romans, that it surpassed even the most marvellous stories of Eastern poets.”
Colonel Fanin tries here in my view to justify such unrestrained manners with the concept of decline but it must be noted that Rome at the times of Pompeii was instead at her apex from every point of view.
He then makes another mistake about the colour of Roman women’s hair (historians having proved that Roman hair was of any colour.)
“The Roman ladies attached great value to fair hair, though Nature had given them such beautiful black hair. It was indeed their habitual custom to have their heads shaved, and to cover them with light hair, which the young girls of Germany or Gaul sold them at fabulously high prices.”
It is true though that the fair and red hair colour was appreciated. Romans were open to a wide world of possibilities, being at the head a vast world.
He here gives us a lively image of Roman unrestrained wealth:
“Every part of the known world at that time contributed to subserve the reckless and mad luxury of the Romans. India sent them fine pearl necklaces, valued at several millions of sistertii; Arabia, her sweetest perfumes; Alexandria, Tyre, and Asia Minor, precious stuffs worked with gold and silk; Sidon, its metal or glass mirrors. Other countries sent to Rome purple, gold, silver, bronze, all the productions both of art and nature, the choicest wines, and the rarest animals. Under the later Scipio, men of high authority at Rome were seen wasting their substance with favourites, others with courtezans, or in concerts and costly feasts, having contracted, during the Persian war, the Greek tastes; and this disorder grew into a madness among the youths.”
‘Country Philosopher’ has been mentioned often in this blog so it is time I introduce him to readers.
His name is Dario Bernazza and what amazed me the day I read one of his books is the fact that he makes use of reason in the way the Ancients did, as if later thought almost didn’t exist.
Free from doubt, he has total faith in the absolute power of rationality and his philosophical manner is natural and naïve. He applies his ancient-like method to both big issues – the existence of God or how we can reach happiness – (see Vivere alla massima espressione) – and everyday problems, in an effort to provide answers to our contemporary void by making use of techniques similar to those utilized by Epicurean and Stoic thinkers 2000 years ago (see his image below, the best I could find to date.)
Therefore, with all due respect to professional philosophers like Fernando Savater (who will probably be invited to our Symposium,) Bernazza will be here as well though with caution, having a few flaws in my opinion, last but not least the tendency to manipulate or influence readers a bit.
The Jap Soldier in the Jungle
Bizarre example of philosophical genuineness – and cultural isolation as well, which kind of preserved him – Country Philosopher is the Japanese soldier who keeps on fighting in the jungle since ages, having no other weapon than his argumentation and being almost unaware of the fact that the times of Socrates, Plato or Zeno of Citium are no more.
CP is a survivor of the classical world.
That all this could happen is both romantic & tragic. And perhaps in no place other than this – the countryside around Rome, (Priverno, Latina), or in the Mezzogiorno – a person like him could spring.
Living Fossils of Antiquity
How many are the Italian country intellectuals? Sparse over the territory they publish their works with their own money by using small local publishing houses and having no great number of readers (the Web didn’t exist at the time of CP.)
This phenomenon is not exclusively Italian.
Here though 1) historical layers are extremely rich and 2) an important part of the classical world originated in this country, which allows us to legitimately speak of living fossils of Antiquity.
In some way, in the Central and especially South regions of Italia, many of us are like fossils, with all the inadequacies towards modernity that this may imply (corrupt patronage systems, amoral familism, clientelism etc.). We retain good qualities as well, which are not dried up yet, I do hope.
The better part of our tradition should be revalued. In the present crisis of the West, due to a great uncertainty regarding our fundamental values, these cultural fragments of the classical world – such as philosophy replacing religion to provide full meanings in life etc. – should be re-examined and updated.
We need to achieve – at a high culture level – what has already been done with peasants’ cultures at a folklore level – for example in Latium and Campania, where, recently rediscovered and re-performed ancient folk dances and tunes, reveal fascinating residues of the rites of Dionysus, among the rest.
A type of research which is actually on the way. The Festival of philosophy in Modena for example (see picture below) has been a great success with 120 thousand presences during only 3 days last year and a seventh successful 3-days edition which ended this last September 16 2007. This formula, thanks to contributions of the European Community, has been exported to both France and the Czech Republic.
As a conclusion, the great philosophers of all times can certainly guide us towards a more meaningful life, beyond any doubt. Nonetheless, these living fossils surviving in niches of a forgotten sea – of lesser value and possibly deteriorated, like prehistoric sequences of DNA – represent survivals of a past that keeps on talking to us.
They keep the fascination of our knotty olive wood, of our scented myrtle, or of the bright yellow of our ginestras.
And they mean something to us which, in spite of all, we cannot but be proud of.
As we have said in the first post regarding Sex and the city of Romethe ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude towards sex and enjoyed a sensuality open to possibilities whose variety can confuse contemporary people (in spite of what we Westerners think of our sexual liberation) to the extent that what we are about to narrate could offend people’s feelings. We therefore ask for pardon but we also make known to minors and prudish people to please not read any further.
Open sensuality? Yes, since for example the sacred poet Virgil probably sighed for Alexis, a beautiful boy; Horace celebrated incest, adultery and sex with female slaves; Ovid, Petronius and Catullus went a lot further (we might see later); not to mention the Roman phallic festivals like the Liberalia, held on the 17th of March …
“… where a monstrous phallus was carried in procession in a car… and the most respectable of the matrons ceremoniously crowned the head of the phallus with a garland”, or festivals like the Bacchanalia where similarly a huge phallus was carried and “as in the Liberalia, the festivities being carried on into the night, as the celebrators became heated with wine, they degenerated into the extreme of licentiousness, in which people indulged without a blush in the most infamous vices.”
Before trying to understand what is left today of these distant habits (the post title actually refers to survivals of ancient behaviours in today’s world, we’ll see why), we are going to provide a few detailed illustrations of this freer (or different, in any case) attitude .
So we’ll start by mentioning a Roman goddess, Dea Bona (‘Good Goddess’) and a scandal occurred at the time of great Julius Caesar.
Roman Dea Bona
In Roman religion Dea Bona (Latin for ‘Good Goddess’) was a “deity of fruitfulness, both in the earth and in women … The dedication day of her temple on the Aventine was celebrated May 1. Her temple was cared for and attended by women only, and the same was the case at a second celebration, at the beginning of December, in the house of the Pontifex Maximus [the chief Roman Priest, today’s Pope being still the Pontifex Maximus of Rome], where the Pontifex’s wife and the Vestal Virgins ran the ceremony.” (Bona Dea. 2007. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 9, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.)
I wonder if the online Britannica is exact here, since the December celebration was conducted “by the wife of the senior magistrate present in Rome in his home” (any senior magistrate then: Pontifex, consul etc.). In fact, according to Plutarch (2nd cent. A.D., Life of Cicero 19.3, 20.1-2) when Cicero was consul, the day he made the famous speech which is known as his third Catiline oration, he was escorted in the night “to the house of a friend and neighbour; his own being occupied by women who were celebrating the secret rites of the goddess whom the Romans call Bona.”
The December festival was more interesting than the May one since “it was not held in the goddess’ temple … it was an invitation-only affair and pretty exclusive”. The wife of the magistrate managed the whole thing during the night, all was secret and occurred in a context of classy luxury (quote from here.)
What was happening during these secret-sacred rites from which men were strictly excluded? Surely it was something like a mystery cult, hence little we know about it (maybe you can find something in Macrobius’ Saturnalia). According to the Latin poet Juvenal, who wrote his satires many generations later (but who was also probably a bit of a misogynist), the Bona rites included drunken orgies among women (Juvenalis Sat. vi, l. 314):
“Well known to all are the mysteries
of the Good Goddess,
when the flute stirs the loins
and the Maenads of Priapus sweep along,
frenzied alike by the horn-blowing and the wine,
whirling their locks and howling.
What foul longings burn within their breasts!
What cries they utter as the passion palpitates within!
How drenched their limbs in torrents of old wine!
Saufeia challenges the slave-girls to a contest….”
The scandal broke during the Dea Bona December ceremonies in 62 BC, when Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus. This is why the celebration took place in his house. Caesar of course was absent, being a man. The way it all developed seems to confirm Juvenal’s view, as we have said.
“(9.1) Publius Clodius was a man of noble birth and notable for his wealth and reputation, but not even the most notorious scoundrels came close to him in insolence and audacity. Clodius was in love with Caesar’s wife Pompeia, and she was not unwilling. But a close watch was kept on the women’s apartment, and Caesar’s mother Aurelia followed the young wife around and made it difficult and dangerous for the lovers to meet.”
“(9.3) The Romans have a goddess whom they call Good… It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony.”
“(10.1) At the time [when the incident occurred] Pompeia was celebrating this ritual; Clodius did not yet have a beard and for this reason thought that he would escape detection if he were dressed up as [woman] lyre-player, and went into the house looking like a young woman. He found the doors open and was led in without difficulty by a slave-woman who was in on the plot; this woman went to Pompeia and told her, and some time passed, but Clodius could not bear to wait, and as he was wandering around the large house and trying to avoid the lights, one of Aurelia’s [female] attendants got hold of him, and asked him to play with her, as one woman might with another, and when he refused, she dragged him before the others and asked who he was and where he came from.”
“(10.3) Clodius said that he was waiting for Pompeia’s slave Abra (which happened to be the woman’s name), and gave himself away by his voice. The [woman] attendant dashed away from him towards the lights and the crowd, shouting that she had caught a man. The women were terrified, and Aurelia called a halt to the rites of the goddess and hid the sacred objects; she ordered the doors to be shut and went around the house with torches, looking for Clodius. He was found in the room that belonged to the girl where he had gone in an attempt to escape. When he was discovered, he was taken through the doors by the women and thrown out of the house. That night the women went right off and told their husbands about the affair, and during the day the story spread through the city that Clodius had been involved in sacrilege and had committed injustice against not only those he had insulted, but the city and the gods.”
“(10.5) Clodius was indicted for sacrilege by one of the tribunes, and the most influential senators joined forces against him and testified about other dreadful outrages he had committed and his incest with his sister.”
[Her name was Clodia – prob. the slutty Lesbia loved by Catullus – a perpetual scandal like her brother Clodius. We’ll probably talk about her again, it is important in our view of Roman sex. In the painting below you can see Catullus visiting aristocratic Lesbia’s mansion, a nice work by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912,) an interesting painter of late nineteenth century Britain]
[Online Britannica: “In December 62, when the winter ceremony of the Bona Dea (from which men were excluded) was celebrated in the house of Julius Caesar, a man believed to be Clodius was discovered disguised as a female harpist among the participants. Charged with incestum he was tried before the Senate…Caesar divorced his wife in suspicion that she had admitted Clodius to the ceremony….Clodius maintained he had been at Interamna, 90 miles (145 km) from Rome, on the day in question, but Cicero, who abused the defendant intemperately, presented evidence to the contrary. Clodius was acquitted, perhaps because the jury had been bribed, but immediately began to devise ways to revenge himself on Cicero.” (Clodius Pulcher, Publius. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 9 Dec. 2007) ]
Plutarch (10.6): “Caesar immediately divorced Pompeia, but when he was summoned as a witness in the trial said that he knew nothing about the accusations against Clodius. The prosecutor asked him about the apparent contradiction: ‘why then did you divorce your wife?’ He answered, ‘because I thought my wife should be above suspicion’….Clodius was acquitted because most of the jurors handed in their opinions in illegible writing, so that they would not endanger themselves with the common people by voting against him, or disgrace themselves with the nobility by letting him off.”
I think the reason Caesar supported Clodius was because they belonged to the same common people (democratic) party. Clodius was popular and influential therefore deemed useful by Caesar for his own political career.
The ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude toward sex (so pls 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 simpleidea, 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 thatthese 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’sa pretty good erotic sample.’ Well, I couldn’t but yield to her superior discernment.)
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 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.
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
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 [a stupid – and not true – thing to say, october 6, 2019].
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 actually 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 … ).
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.
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.)
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 the name of 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.
Young couples gathered close to the Venus temples for petting, necking and even coupling (green areas with temples where common in 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, or a Lutheran 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.)
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 …
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 the excesses of the previous ages.
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 great 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
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.
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 …
“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)
A few days ago our bunch of friends decided to have a Chinese dinner at our home. Everyone loves Chinese cooking. This food is of course not a novelty any more even here, but since while getting better it keeps being incredibly cheap, we still eat it a lot and like it (a lot.)
Advised by the youngest of us all I therefore went to this Chinese restaurant close by, located at the end of Via Cavour, not far from Via dei Fori Imperiali. I ordered a take-away meal for 8. I had never been there before. Wow was I surprised by the place and by the people!
The restaurant was elegant enough. I admired the professionalism, dynamism and hard working style that reigned in the place, everybody being so serious and dedicated.
A big family clan, I believe, with all ages being present: male teenagers serving tables; middle-aged women organising, calculating, pinning small sheets of purple paper to the wall; young sweet-looking women serving too, clad in traditional silk dresses with fine motifs on them; a man who I think was the husband of one of the older women and apparently the boss; the eldest woman finally, white-haired, the grandmother definitely, who worked hard at the counter despite her age, so incredibly attentive to all that happened and typing the bills on the counter keys with solemn vigour.
I smiled at her and she smiled back. Romans are good-natured but they have some difficulty in understanding such closed-up and reserved people who nonetheless, when they feel one doesn’t perceive them as aliens, quickly respond. I told her I had a few friends from China and asked her what town they came from, what type of Chinese language they spoke, whether their language was Cantonese- or Mandarin-related. She said that their speech was related to none of them, that it was an entirely different language. The way she said it revealed she enjoyed answering to me even though it was not apparent (although I felt it clearly.)
She then said they all came from Wenzhou, which (I later learned) is a town in the south-eastern Zhejiang province residing “on the Ou Jiang delta, with picturesque buildings and surroundings. The port (…) very active in the 19th century (tea export) was later used for fishing only” (La Piccola Treccani). Thence the emigration to foreign countries of large portions of these active people with “a reputation for being an enterprising folk who starts restaurants, retail and wholesale businesses in their adopted countries.”
Wenzhou. Such a difficult word I remember only because the guy got close – the one I thought to be the boss – and was so pleased to write it down for me, and he asked me if I was a real Roman, and I said yes, I am a real Roman, and after a while I realised ALL of them suddenly knew this Roman had an interest in them. They sort of suddenly knew I was sympathetic.
Someone probably overhearing the said conversation and exchanging quick Chinese whispers they all were immediately aware of everything getting immediately hidden-attentive, hidden-agreeable, while two young men prayed me several times to please sit down while waiting for my package (till I finally accepted) and offered me gratis this unbelievable Chinese H-bomb liquor (of which I drank two shots.)
I felt this quasi imperceptible attention, these good vibes in the air despite their not showing it much. Chinese people are delicate, steel-strong, intelligent and – I must gather – telepathic, while most of the people here consider them a totally indecipherable marble-faced folk – funnier than stone-faced, it is a joke I have with some Hong Kong IT students: I tease them, they tease me back.
Oh such a lovely lovely evening it was! My fantasy was flying high, this nitro-glycerine booze being not totally guiltless.
And then – like a sudden cool breeze coming from nowhere … I looking at the paintings around … looking at the smiling faces around – I clearly felt like the presence of a God as my sight began to blur …
At home our Chinese dinner was a success. It went on and on as only Roman dinners can go (for hours,) mixing both Chinese and Italian dishes washed down with an icy Italian white this time though, a tuscan Galestro not at all bad.
I didn’t bring any of the Chinese H-bomb though (meeting Gods too often can be a problem beyond a doubt.) I in fact know I owe that stuff a brief, intense encounter with Bacchus-Dionysus (son of Semele and Jupiter) in that Wenzhou restaurant and in the cool open air outside, a place right at the border of the ancient Roman Subura.
While actually my sight slightly blurred within the restaurant I remember I was gently given my take-away meal.
Moments later I was driving back home with my motorbike, winding and winding like a crazy birdie, fresh crisp air on my ecstatic face.
Rome, the eternal loose woman, imperial, magnificent, was smiling all around.
In I segreti di Roma, as we said, Corrado Augias notes that “Rome among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village…”.
This ancientness of Rome is revealed by many aspects that go back to pre-Christian (or so-called Pagan) times, in spite of the fact that the city is the centre of Catholicism.
What can happen here is that the columns of a Christian church come from a temple of Venus, or that the porch of a palace built in 1909 is sustained by a buttress from Nero’s circus (Augias).
The character of the true Romans (romani di 7 generazioni, namely seven-gererations Romans, as we say) is often crass, easy-going, cynic, wise & witty: all at the same time. Great Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi (see picture below) was a pretty good specimen. This mixture smells of centuries and of moral values going well beyond the civilization of Christ.
This Christian/pre-Christian mix is palpable. Federico Fellini’s films depict it in ways grotesque though eloquent (Roma, above all, but not only).
Following is Roma’s poster and the famous Catholic Church Fashion Show movie sequence from that same movie. It may appear an excessively wild scene, but it is hard to deny how it is also much revealing.
In his novel Rome (Augias p. 11) the French writer Emile Zola wondered if Raffaello’s ideal figures didn’t after all flash the divine and desirable flesh of Venus under the chaste veil of the Virgin; or those mighty Michelangelo’s frescos didn’t after all refer to the nature of the Olympian Gods rather than that of the Hebrews’ God.
“Was indeed Rome ever Christian – Zola asks – after the primitive age of the catacombs?”.
Also the pre-Christian role of government of peoples still survives. Imperial Rome is resurrected into Catholic Rome, governess not of the nations any more but of the minds and spirits of men.