Pictures from Tuscany (skip blah blah)

A view. Click for a larger picture

Some pictures from our last week end.

ψ

This post is again dedicated to Tuscany, to ‘sposa‘ and to my ‘eldest brother’.

I hope you won’t think my life is so sparkling.

It isn’t.

And I have visited Tuscany seldom in the last 15 years.

The reasons are not related to the people I mention here.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time before a screen or reading or playing my guitar or walking.

A very stupid thing to do, perhaps.

I won’t say more, since dum loquor hora fugit.

ψ

Lilla when very young

[Necessary update 😦 Skip to pics below]

Mario: “You sometimes try to make your life big. And this post proves you wanted to blow your readers’ mind with ‘your Tuscany’. Besides let’s face it Campania’s culture is greater than Toscana’s.”

MoR: “As for the last point I may partially agree though it’s hard to say and in any case Campania is today at risk (due possibly to capricious Greek influence?)

I mean, this everybody-screwing-everybody attitude come on. And you, and what you’ve done to Flavia especially, and to me. We loved you. You are and will ever remain a moron.”

Mario: *keeping silent for a moment*

“You didn’t reply to my first point.”

Buds in Tuscany 34 years ago. Mario on the right and I on the left

MoR: “There may be some narcissism (see 1, 2), or this ‘wanting to show them’ thing.”

Extropian: “The usual ‘attraction-repulsion between North and South, between hyperboreans non-hyperboreans’ thing? Interesting but boring now.

I am thinking about us, more than 30 years ago, when we used to spend so many week ends in Tuscany all together, our group of school mates. It was beautiful. And your eldest brother, terrific.”

MoR: “Lilla my female dog has just died this morning. So what can I say. Life is short. Let us live.

But I kind of believe in reincarnation.

For both humans and animals, of course.”

ψ

Tuscan friends
'Sposa' (spouse) and 'il mio fratello maggiore' (my eldest brother)
Very good natured and intelligent, he makes everybody happy in parties. Click to enlarge
Very intelligent, strong willed, simpaticissima... click for a larger image. Btw I don't know why Italian women are so strong willed. They 'grind' us

I insisted on the feather. I obsessed all with my small E63. Click for a larger image

Click for a bigger pic. In Tuscany people love (and have great) meat and steaks
Well, well ,well ... sposa is sposa. click for a larger picture
End with rain. Click to enlarge

Il soffio della morte può rinfrescare?

Rewriting a bit in my mother tongue, since after more than three years of blogging in English I am starting to look for words when I speak in Italian. English-speaking readers may use an automatic translator if they will.

Riscrivere un poco nella lingua madre perché dopo più di tre anni di blog in inglese quando parlo in italiano cominciano a mancarmi le parole. I lettori di lingua inglese possono usare un traduttore automatico se vogliono.

A Brush With Death

Non so. Forse scrivo questo avendo letto un testo di Richard sull’argomento.

Incontrai tempo fa in aereo un tizio di Trieste che era stato anche assessore della città per alcuni anni e con il quale instaurai una di quelle amicizie intense che nascono (e muoiono) nello spazio di un’ora. Mi disse che la sua vita cambiò dopo aver avuto due infarti.

“A brush with death always helps us to live our lives better”. L’avevo appuntato nel mio diario ma non so più chi l’ha scritto. Tradotto liberamente: quando la morte ti sfiora ti aiuta sempre a vivere meglio.

In fondo, e lo dico senza alcuno spirito macabro e in tutta serenità, quest’ultima fase della vita dovrebbe essere tutta un ‘brush with death’, il che dovrebbe renderla la più preziosa di tutte, giorno per giorno, accorgendoci di quanto è bello ciò che stiamo per lasciare, per cui molte preoccupazioni di fronte a una tale prospettiva dovrebbe scomparire, o attenuarsi di molto.

Dovrebbero. Ma quasi sempre non è così. It doesn’t work that way most of the time.

Ecco che forse può giovare dirigere, quasi spingere, la mente verso pensieri del genere, come quando cerchiamo di recitare versi o parole che danno forza.

ψ

Related posts:

Young People vs Life

I giovani e la vita

Do We Have Balls To Live Withouth Religion? INVICTUS

Inner Bravery and Endurance

The film INVICTUS should be watched by the young and the less young.

It is an inspiring message on the inner bravery we can find in ourselves in order to endure any deep sorrow or big problem life can hurl at us.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, INVICTUS is based on John Carlin‘s book ‘Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation. Invictus‘.

The film is a tribute to Nelson Mandela and to the South African people – blacks and whites alike – and it reveals the complex fragments of the souls of 3 men.

The Victorians, Mandela, the Afrikaans

Nelson Mandela in 2008
N. Mandela in 2008. Click for credits and to enlarge

1) A Victorian poet – William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) we never see in the film – who bravely faced life deprived of his left leg since the age of 12 and who wrote INVICTUS (see below,) an inspired poem on endurance.

2) Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years imprisoned in a quasi cubicle and who was resilient enough to survive and fight also because inspired by the poem INVICTUS.

3) The South African (Afrikaan) captain of the Springboks‘ – the country’s rugby union team – who, inspired by Mandela in his turn and by that same poem, brings the Springboks to victory, in the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa, by defeating the All Blacks 15-12 in the final.

An event that possibly helped the South African black and white people to better understand each other along the hard path towards a society where racial hate and mistrust may be progressively banned.

Morgan Freeman‘s (starring Mandela, and Mandela’s friend btw); Clint Eastwood; the solid plot-script – these in my opinion the elements that make the film compelling.

I forgot someone. Nelson Mandela.

Invictus

William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903). R. L. Stevenson’s ‘Long John Silver’ character was inspired by his real-life friend Henley, ‘a glowing, massive-shouldered fellow’

OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade
,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid
.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley, 1875

Note on Man & Religion

So beautiful, inspiring.

Henley’s position on religion seems pre-Christian to me and close to epicureanism and stoicismSir Bertrand Russell had declared:

“My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.” [read more ]

Henley’s position is also that of the Renaissance and of humanism, when Western man – a truly reborn dantesque Ulysses – found the guts to build his own destiny again (and regrettably to conquer the rest of the planet destroying other cultures etc.)

“Man can find all the force he needs within his own human soul and reason, within his character and will,” said many Greek and Roman wise men plus several humanists, no god really helping, no religion really helping.

[The italic text in INVICTUS is mine. It is where I believe the poet mostly expresses the said classic attitude.]

Ψ

Now, what do readers think about all this? Can we live without religion, without a help from ‘someone’ up there?

Can we too – the simple men in the street – be the ‘captains of our soul’? Or is it only possible to the master, to the ‘real tough’?

So in the end:

Is religion basically a question of lack of balls? Or is there more than that?

ψ

Related posts:

Religion, Fear, Power
Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind (on Magister’s teachings on bravery and inner force)
On Solitude (where the totally self-sufficient Greco-Roman sage is analysed, a quasi-superman, like many Victorians were also)

A final note.

(I know, I’ll lose ALL my readers …)

INVICTUS attitude is classical. It reminds the Greco-Roman sage who has “like unsinkable goods in his soul that can float out of any shipwreck.”

Stilpon (Στίλπων) who according to Seneca lost his family and all his goods, when asked if he had suffered any harm, replied: “No, I haven’t.”

Compare now this classical attitude with a passage from the Old Testament (Psalm 91,9.) [the New Testament is identical in this].

You’ll measure the total overturning of many classical values Christianity carried out.

ψ

Here in fact man totally entrusts himself to God’s divine pro-vidence:

Because thou hast made the LORD,
which is my refuge, even the most High,
thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee,
neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
to keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee up in their hands,
lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Because he hath set his love upon me,
therefore will I deliver him:

I will set him on high,
because he hath known my name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
[exactly what Christ says in the New Testament, MoR]

I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him,
and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him,
and shew him my salvation.

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)

Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II
Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II. Click for credits

The theme of the Mafia has come out in many discussions. While reading up on it I was surprised how well the Mafia seems to fit into the topics of this blog.

Here just a few notes freely based 1) on the book Padrini, by Roberto Olla, Mondadori 2003, Milano [translated into English with the title Godfathers], and 2) on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Men of Respect, Intelligent and Cynical

The word “Don” is used in Italian when referring to a priest or to an aristocrat. A godfather is in fact a man of respect. He is an aristocrat of crime, a prince of evil, no matter his appearance or his clothes – this may be one reason why Hollywood movie-goers have found the Mafiosi so attractive.

One common mistake – argues Roberto Olla – is in fact that of considering the Mafiosi as simple gunmen to defeat. Don Vito Cascio Ferro had no guns. He was one of the first godfathers who operated both in Sicily and in the United States. His force lay in his cynicism and intelligence and in the network he was able to create thanks to well ingrained traditions. He distributed favori, favours, to everybody, but something was asked in return.

In short, mafia had/has history. How a Mafia network was / is built is well expressed by Mario Puzo in The Godfather:

“Don Vito Corleone [Puzo’s fictitious character] was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promise (…) Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart (…) His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don” (…) some humble gift – a gallon of home-made wine etc.
It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.”

This network implied protection, various forms of exchange but also ruthless exploitation (for example the pizzo or protection money one could not escape).

Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery
Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery

Long centuries of oppression or absence of the state had favoured in Sicily a kind of anti-state or alternative organization. The American police officers and the ‘nordic’ Italian state found themselves unprepared – Olla continues.

Focusing on America, “the US policemen were searching in the underworld. But it was in the upper world that they should have searched. They should have searched among the ‘similar’ and not the ‘unlike’, since those men came from an ancient culture.”

How to Face Aliens From an Ancient World?

Let us try to better understand. America at that time – Olla observes – distinguished between the good guys and the bad guys, and reacted severely to the latter. When though meeting the ‘men of respect’ the US found themselves facing unheard-of souls. They were unprepared when fighting these mafiosi who were too similar to the people from the upper world. It was not a matter of jacket and tie or of wearing a social mask.

“It was a blend of morality and immorality which produced people able to commit the most ferocious crimes and, at the same time, to show respect for religion. People capable to plan a massacre while in everyday life they defended the good principles and healthy traditions.”

An unheard-of humanity? Well, my readers know well what I mean: we are dealing here in my opinion with alien moral codes stemming from pre-Christian, Greco-Roman antiquity, something more or less unknown to [more truly Christian] northern Europe where the American culture mostly came from.

The mafioso had to be seen – as  Giovanni Falcone, a famous Sicilian magistrate killed by the mafia in 1992, once said – like the old sage who administered justice sitting under the big oak tree in the name of a non-existent state.

The Irish had no Chance

“Morality and immorality, respect and abuse, honour and violence.” When the Italian and the Irish organized crime faced each other in the American ports [Olla, again], the latter didn’t have any chance, regardless of the many advantages the Irish had had – they had migrated earlier, they spoke the language, and some of them were perfectly integrated: Irish crime had to face a more ancient and mysterious culture.

Surprise attacks, great speed and extreme determination in their raids – behind the big godfathers I remember Mario Puzo flashing the shadow of the Roman emperors [imperatores], with their ruthlessness and organization. It is exaggerated, but certainly the Mafia the Americans had to fight had already in its genes some formidable military qualities, among the rest.

Different from the Irish is the case of the Jewish criminals, some of which (like Meyer Lansky associated with Lucky Luciano) well integrated themselves into the Italian Mafia (due to their common Mediterranean origins? It is tempting to think so.)

Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer and pioneer in the fight against Mafia
Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer, pioneer in the fight against the Mafia (1860 – 1909)

It is not by chance that the first serious blows to the Mafia were given by Italians, like the police officer Joe Petrosino and many others, who were able to understand the intricacies of the Italian mind.

Related posts and blog themes:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)
A Cultural Battle
The Mafia and the Italian Mind. Was Julius Caesar a Godfather? (3)

Is The Human Mind Like a Museum?
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Traces of Paganism in Italians

Eluana, or Man’s Ultimate Freedom. Ending One’s Life. 2

Lucretia stabs herself after rape. Joos van Cleve, Flemish artist, 1485 - 1540. Click for credits

Rape and death of Roman Lucretia

To her husband’s question, “Is all well?,” Lucretia replied:

“Far from it; for what can be well with a woman when she has lost her honour?
The print of a strange man is in your bed. Yet my body only has been violated;
my heart is guiltless, as death shall be my witness.” …

Taking a knife which she had concealed beneath her dress, she plunged it into her heart,
and sinking forward upon the wound, died as she fell.

(Livy Book I. 57-60)

Ψ

A discussion about the acceptable reasons for ending one’s life (see our previous post) can profit from the opinion of our forefathers, the Ancients, and from that of the Renaissance men, who channelled ancient thought into modernity.

This post is not a paean to suicide. I am sure Eluana Englaro and Terry Schiavo loved life: was theirs an acceptable life though?

Most of the quotes are taken from the French Renaissance writer Montaigne (II:3), whose Gutenberg English text is available in the translation of Charles Cotton (1630 – 1687). See also the original French text.

Note to readers

To many, old writings are a terrible bore.
They are wrong in my view.
Ancient writings, actual time machines connecting the past to the present, are mind expanding and one of the pleasures of life.

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

“The wise man lives as long as he should, not as long as he can” said Seneca, who nobly committed suicide when accused of an attempt on emperor Nero’s life. And Cicero said that while “life depended upon the will of others, death depended upon our own.”

Greco-Roman writers like Plutarch expressed great appreciation for anyone who showed this kind of ultimate dignity.

Tacitus admires Boiocalus, a German chief, “who said to the Romans that he and his tribe might lack enough land to live upon, but land sufficient to die upon could never be wanting.”

Plutarch tells us of this Spartan boy “sold as a slave and by his master commanded to some abject employment, who said: ‘You shall see whom you have bought; it would be a shame for me to serve, when freedom is at reach,’ and having so said, threw himself from the top of the house.”

Ancient thought didn’t always condone suicide. Plato didn’t accept it and the Roman poet Virgil (Aeneid, IV, 434-437) destined those who committed suicide to a region of the afterlife where they were overwhelmed by sadness (tenent maesti loca).

But the prevalent Roman ideal was that of the stoic sage who counted on reason and self-control and who was not afraid of pain or misfortune (see our post ‘On solitude‘). Should life become unbearable, or should one face great dishonour, the Romans of both sexes were not hesitant to commit suicide.

Death was considered an act of ultimate freedom and this was deeply ingrained in the Roman tradition. “Nature has ordained only one entrance to life – said Cicero – but a hundred thousand exits.”

Death was less important than the way of death, which had to be decent, full of dignity, rational (and sometimes theatrical,) while to the Christian mind, self-killing being a sin, suicide is often a desperate, irrational action fruit of depression.

Among famous examples of suicide are Lucretia, Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony (and Cleopatra,) Cato the younger (see picture below), Seneca, Lucan, Petronius Arbiter etc. plus a good number of emperors, Nero, Maximian, Otho, Quintillus etc.

Common people as well considered dignity more important than life in many cases.

Cato of Utica reading the Phedo before comitting suicide. Jean-Baptiste Romand & François Rude (1832). Photo by M. Romero SchmidkteRoman stoicism deeply influenced the West despite the victory of Christianity. “For much of modern Western history, Stoic ideas of moral virtue have been second to none in influence” (Ecole Initiative, Early Church On-Line Encyclopedia.)

We see examples of noble death in Shakespeare, who, like all his contemporaries from Renaissance, felt the influence of ancient thought. The imagination of the Victorian British was captured by Cato’s death (see image on the right), «clawing out his own entrails to avoid Caesar’s despotism — as a courageous and noble death.”

Montaigne, imbued with Roman stoicism, refers how “Alexander laying siege to a city in India, those within, finding themselves very hardly set, put on a vigorous resolution to deprive him of the pleasure of his victory, and accordingly burned themselves together with their city, despite his humanity.” He seems to praise that the Indians preferred a death with honour rather than a life without it.

Montaigne adds a moving example:

“Nothing can be added to the beauty of the death of the wife of Fulvius, a good friend of Augustus. Augustus having discovered that his friend had vented an important secret he had entrusted him withal, one morning that he came to make his court, received him very coldly and looked frowningly upon him. Fulvius returned home full of despair, where he sorrowfully told his wife that, having fallen into this misfortune, he was resolved to kill himself.
To whom she frankly replied, ‘Tis right, seeing that having so often experienced the indiscipline of my tongue, you could not take warning: but let me kill myself first,’ and without more ado she ran herself through the body with a sword.”

Montaigne, quoting Pliny the elder, observes that the mythical Hyperboreans, “when weary and satiated with living, had the custom, at a very old age, after having made good cheer, to precipitate themselves into the sea from the top of a certain rock, assigned for that service” (see our series on the Hyperboreans.)

“Unbearable pain and the fear of a worse death seem to me the most excusable incitements for suicide” is Montaigne’s conclusion.

He was a sincere Christian. But he found inspiration and solace in the teachings of antiquity.

A Dear Old Friend Got Lost in the Intricacies of the Planet (or of his Mind)

E8 beautiful geometry. Click for source.

This, together with this music, is to commemorate Angelo, colleague and friend, systems & networking engineer, mathematician and physicist as well as passionate linguistic, a totally eccentric, harmless and absent-minded individual who since the end of the 80s onwards did violence to a nature inclined to quiet studies, as if to test himself – his father had been very successful internationally as a hydraulic engineer – and embarked on deeds greater than him.

A quiet and shy person, he was deprived of both that minimum knowledge of men and those qualities required for planning and successfully implementing solutions in troubled regions of the earth.

He worked here and there as if bitten by an incurable malaise, eager to explore languages within dangerous areas of Africa, the Middle East and South America. His inadequacy produced in him an anxiety which kept growing in the course of the years – some of his projects turned out to be unrealistic  – and which we clearly felt in his letters, which became more and more sporadic although no less significant.

Ψ

When one day mails from him arrived more bizarre than ever and written in a patchwork of languages, of which a few artificial and invented by him, we clearly understood that something was wrong.

No more than ten, these letters are all we know of the apparently most difficult period of his life. A sort of final communiqué? Gods only know. They have been exchanged as relics among relatives and friends, their delirious depths plumbed in search of secret signs or revealing thoughts. They are too private to be published, but if I did you’d probably understand how interesting, ingenious, defenceless, crazy, tormented, adorable he was, without any doubt one of the weirdest and best persons I’ve ever met.

Extropian, another sui generis (and fortunately sedentary) character, and the friend possibly closest to him, keeps on saying he started to get worse the day he discovered Garret Lisi’s theories on quantum mechanics and stubbornly tried to give a contribution to them, although, knowing Extropian too well, I doubt this to be much more than a jest to play things down a bit, or, as we say, per sdrammatizzare.

His last mail, written on October 21rst not many years ago, is absolutely incomprehensible.

Searches conducted by relatives, friends and the institution he was working for in the country where he was operational at that time produced no results. He seems to be vanished.

Ψ

If you are still alive, Angelo, why don’t you contact us, dear friend? In which meanders of this planet (or of your mind) did you lose your path?

Us and the Hyperboreans. 2

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 …

Ψ

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.”

Ψ

Related posts:

Us and the Hyperboreans. 1
Us and the Hyperboreans. 3
Humanitas
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

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia. Gnu Free documentation License

Italian version

The Greco-Roman soul is intimately tied to Egypt and North Africa.

We are all Mediterranean. Food, plants and plenty of traditions are similar. On a long-period perspective we belong to the same historical stream, to the same sea from which some of the first civilizations have germinated on this side of the planet.

Of course there are differences though we are not so dissimilar as someone might (or liked) to think plus our same religions, apparently dividing us, are in reality loving the same God.

It is not by chance that these north-African regions are considered diverse and almost European by Sub-Saharan black people. They are in fact very different from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Another interesting point is that during the whole Middle Ages north Africans were the most powerful, civilised and wealthy among all Mediterranean (and European) folks.

Wealth has move to the North

Wealth has now moved to the North shore.

The Northern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean tend to exchange their roles.

Tunisia conquered Sicily for 400 years. Today it looks at Sicily (and Italy) as a beloved guiding light and its greatest inspiring model (“les Italiens pour nous sont comme des dieux”, “Italians are like gods to us”, a Tunisian manager once told me). While we, in our narrow-mindedness, do not even notice it.

Italians (especially those who travel little) do not know how much they are loved within the entire Mediterranean area.

Even when we landed on its islands as occupants, together with the Nazis, we were accepted with affection by the local populations because they felt us as close relatives. How many memories, traditions and bonds we do share with them.

Many villages in Southern Italy – or in so many Greek islands, not to mention Spain, who was under Arabic rule for so long – look Arabic or belonging in any case to the deep South Mediterranean: take Ostuni, in Apulia, or Sperlonga, in the south of Latium; then cast a glance at Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia (see picture above:)

They are almost identical, belonging to a very similar culture, whether we like it or not, because during the Middle Ages the winning model came from the South Mediterranean coasts, where civilization (and power) lay.

Needless to say, when a Roman – even more a Neapolitan (not to mention a Sicilian) – hears an Arabic melody he feels hidden strings vibrating in his soul.

Death of Dido, by Augustin Cayot (French, 1667-1772). Public domain

Going further back in time let us conjure up the war to the death between Rome and Carthage immortal Tunisia, again) whose legendary origin – narrated by Virgil’s classical (and beautiful) poem Aeneid – sprang from Dido’s desperate love for Aeneas, our Trojan ancestor of Rome.

This Carthage’s queen, forsaken by the Trojan hero, stabbed herself after predicting eternal hate between Rome and Carthage.

So from love sprang hate; from hate tremendous war (thus says the legend): a moment of history – the historical, not legendary war, this time – that decided whether the Mediterranean was to be dominated by its North or its South shores.

The North (and Rome) won – by a hair’s breadth it’d be fair to say.

Meeting Tunisians
à La Goulette

I was in Tunisia for work and in La Goulette coffee houses – La Goulette is a picturesque district in Tunis, close to the harbour, where incidentally the beautiful Italian-Tunisian actress Claudia Cardinale was born – people still discuss the battles of Roman Scipio and of Carthaginian Hannibal, and they line up beans on tables thus drawing up troops of both armies in order to celebrate Hannibal’s brilliant victories over the Romans, still trying also to understand where Hannibal went wrong in the last fatal battle of Zama.

One of the guys I met there had worked with several Italian movie directors in the innumerable films the Italians shot in Tunisia.

I clearly felt they were all kind and warm to this Italian who showed interest in them. They were drinking beer so I asked them:

“Isn’t alcohol forbidden by the Koran?”.

One of them replied:

Eh bien, nous on fait tout, mais en cachette”, “well, we do everything, though in secret”. And my mind went to Sicily, where secrecy, doing things en chachette, is typical and well ingrained.

Anthony, Cleopatra
(and Octavian)

Getting back to Egypt, let us consider Alexander the Great and his relationship with Egypt and the city of Alexandria, which he founded. And let us consider Cleopatra, descendant of one of Alexander’s generals, as well as her love affair with Julius Caesar, first, and with Mark Anthony, Caesar’s relative, later.

Caesar and Anthony, united by both kinship and their love for Egypt’s splendid civilization. Was Caesar’s love for Egypt sincere, or was it the result of mere political calculations? Hard to fathom, Caesar’s mind, but we are inclined to believe Anthony’s interest for Egypt was not only political.

 

lupaottimigut1.jpg

The conflict between Anthony and Octavian was again a moment in history that decided whether the Mediterranean had to be dominated by its Northern or South-eastern shores, this time. Again Rome (and the North) won but later, after the fall of the Roman empire, the South and Near East took their revenge, with triumphant Islam and the survival of Greek Constantinople.

Mahfouz, as a conclusion

As a conclusion, the eternal Roman and Mediterranean soul vibrates when in contact with relatives to whom it is tied by both common history and traditions.

Who better than Naguib Mahfouz, the great Egyptian writer (and future virtual guest), can guide us and help us to understand?

In our next post dedicated to the Southern shores of the Mediterranean we will in fact listen to the love words of young Kamal, the main character from the second volume of Mahfouz’s Cairo trilogy.

A Novel in the Hands of the Killers

Reagan assassination attempt. Public domain

Before getting to the killers let us be patient and consider the concept of literary improvisation. I know I am terribly boring but I promise a lot of blood blood blood in this post – plus the relationship between literature and social life being complex we’ll have to wander a bit before we finally dive into base butchery 😉 .

Literary improvisation is not far from musical improvisation, a topic we have talked about in a previous post. We will not define the concept, being it self-explanatory.

(Can James Joyce’s stream of consciousness be in some way related to what we have said above – literary improvisation, not base butchery, in case you don’t get it wrong 😉 ? Hard to say. I don’t believe it to be very far from it. It is to be noted though that writers at times cleverly build what seems spontaneous, and in literature what counts is the final result: things do work or they do not).

Connecting literary improvisation with digression we will mention again that nice passage by J. D. Salinger where Holden, the adolescent protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, narrates how he had to undergo the oral expression lesson which consisted in letting a student speak of any topic, and each time the student didn’t stick to the point all the boys in class had to yell “Digression!!” at him (you can read this passage in a former post of ours). Holden instead liked speeches full of digressions and the novel itself, if not very similar in its structure to the above said stream of consciousness, is nonetheless so rich with digressions, facts within facts, ideas within ideas, that it creates an overall effect of chaotic freshness memorably depicting an adolescent mind definitely undisciplined and even disturbed (Holden is disturbed in some way) although so vivacious and sparkling.

(Here again everything seems spontaneous and improvised but I am sure Salinger’s text resulted from a good mixture of intuition and clever construction).

Salinger’s novel has been a classic not only of the American literature (and his language is present in most dictionaries of US slang) but it has inspired the beat generation as well as numerous drop-outs who joined the utopian movements of the 1960s up to the present day.

Personally I read it by mere chance when I was 18 (I had it in inheritance from a boy who was leaving an apartment we shared in Ireland) and I was deeply impressed by it. Coming just out of adolescence I probably recognized in there plenty of the insecurities I was living in those days. But young Holden went beyond, to the extent of almost hating all the surrounding world and it was a bit worrying for people (like me), who enjoyed the book so much, to read on newspapers that David Chapman, the person “who assassinated John Lennon, was carrying the book when he was arrested immediately after the murder and referred to it in his statement to police shortly thereafter.” Also “John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate US President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was also reported to have been obsessed with the book.” (From Wikipedia: The Catcher in the Rye).

Lennon’s assassination announced. Fair use

Well, that doesn’t mean that the novel is murder inspiring though certainly by effectively describing the difficulties of a tormented adolescence it is not illogical that some disturbed individual identified himself with the Holden character, finding comfort and inspiration in it and thus feeding his vision against everything and everybody (and refusing to stick to the point naturally becomes a symbol of anarchic revolt against order and self-discipline).

However, also the non psychopath teenager identified himself/herself with Salinger’s character. So the novel became a classic for an entire generation, whether protesting against order and law or not, since adolescence is a more or less difficult period for everyone.

There is, we repeat, a subtle link between digression and the previously mentioned themes of utopia & musical improvisation. Digression as well, going against rationality, can in fact lead to inconclusiveness, i.e. to nowhere, thus unstructuring the logic of discourse – utopia is a Greek word made of ‘ou’(= no) and ‘τόπος’ (= place), so its meaning is actually ‘in no place’.

Summarizing, improvisation is the thin link among the present post and these earlier ones, Digression vs Sticking to the Point and Why Musical Improvisation is Utopian.

Improvisation has been a myth of the counterculture of my generation and of the generations who followed. The idea of improvisation in art (music, literature, theatre etc.) is somewhat connected to social behaviours appeared in the counterculture of the last 50 years. A relationship, in fact, between mental and social anarchy cannot in my view be denied (like I guess it cannot be denied that there is some relationship between the crystalline clarity of Julius Caesar’s writings and his rational conduct and self-control, of which you can read something in this post of ours as well).

It is simple, after all. Facts (and history) are created by people. And people have a mind. Thence there are connections between what we think, read, write and do, whether in our social environment or in art.

Flowers for John Lennon at Strawberry Fields in New Yorks Central Park. Fair use

[We are not anarchic and we do not belong to the counter-culture – although for a couple of years we sorta did, but that was a long time ago. As evidence of my words, we try in this blog to find inspiration from our ancient philosophies, which exalted wisdom, rationality and self control. Only ….

Things are not in black and white,
the hues of grey (and colours)
being infinite …

Forgive my horrible English poems, it’s one of my manias].

Italian version

Other related posts:

Digression vs Sticking to the Point
Why Musical Improvisation is Utopian

Ethical Confusion & Ancient Teachings

Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia. Public Domain

How can we live a better life (says Country Philosopher)? According to Socrates (depicted above while trying to convince Alcibiades to leave charming Aspasia‘s house) everything is attainable through exercise – I am quoting CP freely – because exercise creates a habit, any habit.

[Looking habit up in the on-line Webster we read that it is “a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”]

So it seems that all we need, in order to live a better life – CP argues – is just practising regularly what makes us live better, while at the same time gradually abandoning what makes us live worse. Very easy to say but very difficult to realize – CP continues. The reason is that very few people know what makes us live better, i.e. what are the things that make us live happily, which are of course the most convenient and advantageous to us.

According to our nature we all tend towards our well-being and best comfort, both spiritual and material – it cannot be denied, says CP. In other words we should all tend towards what is really convenient for us, the problem oddly enough being that at present we seem to have forgotten what is really convenient for us. Otherwise how can we explain that so many people are unhappy despite the fact that they possess what is necessary to live, and sometimes even more than that?

As we just said we can explain this with the fact that these people (all of us) know little or nothing of what is really convenient or advantageous, even in small trivia and in everyday practical choices. In short, there are so many people around who visibly make the wrong choices, which are disadvantageous choices. These people consequently live worse and worse, while they could live better and better.

(Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, from page 25 on)

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Could this be one of the fundamental problems of our so-called rich countries (I’m asking myself)? They should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. But since so many people are evidently unhappy there must be necessarily a problem of ethical confusion: people do not know any more what is convenient or non convenient to do (ethics is a branch of philosophy which encompasses right conduct and good living – a definition taken from Wikipedia).

A Rational Sovereign Spirit

As far as we are concerned, it is very hard to answer to CP’s question (how we can live a better life). We will only consider that the Ancient Romans, who acquired philosophy from the Greeks but who were much more practical and solid than their philosophy mentors, faced life with great success thanks to their iron will, their rationality and self-control. The scions of the well-to-do Roman families flocked to Greece to study the Epicurean and Stoic doctrines, two very significant schools of thought for Rome, which Rome was able to adapt to her needs – like everything Rome learned from others – and which was propagated by Rome in every region of the Empire.

Today we still admire Julius Caesar’s sovereign spirit, calm, always mastering himself even when facing the most dreadful tragedies, his writings & actions being a vivid testimony of his character. Caesar was though but a fruit – one of the greatest, maybe – of a civilization based mainly on reason.

Is a conduct based on this method still valid today? This question arises when reading this Country Philosopher so stubbornly convinced – like the Ancients were – of the thaumathurgic power of human rationality. Is it possible today, while confronting with everyday problems, to draw any benefit from the philosophies of our Ancient World?

We do believe (and we do hope) it is possible.

Right Measure in Pleasure

As an example, we can try to apply Roman rational wisdom to the concept of vice, meaning by this term a moral fault that can harm us. Vices can in fact ruin our life. If we drink or smoke too much, if we become sex (or gambling) maniacs we gradually (or quickly) ruin our life. Actually vices are not those horrible things depicted by priests – CP argues – and at the base of many so-called vices are in reality those pleasant things which make life worth living. Why then don’t we benefit from them? Is it true that all that is pleasurable is harmful and – as some believers say – should be prohibited? What is a Roman-like solution to this problem, since in this blog we are talking about retrieving fragments of our Romans’ ancient wisdom?

Surely abstinence is not Roman-like, it is rather monk-like. The Romans loved terrestrial life much more than ultramundane life (a world of pale ghosts to them). They loved life before death, not after death, and were not inclined to reject its pleasures. The solution for a Roman therefore doesn’t reside in renouncing to life and its pleasures. On the contrary, it resides in the correct measure in which we enjoy life, which implies moderation and non addiction, since any addiction makes us slaves of passions (pleasures), makes us non free.

A beautiful and conclusive sentence by CP: “A right measure prevents the genesis of vice, which incidentally is nothing but a measure not correct – i.e. excessive – which has become a habit.”

lupaottimigut1.jpg

PS
Note. The Ancients’ reflection on human rationality is of great importance and modern philosophy and science are derived from it. Rationality should though be integrated with the modern concepts of will and imagination. There is some debate today on these topics, I will provide links as soon as I can. The Ancients practiced reason, will and imagination, of course, but didn’t theorize much and didn’t developed techniques that pertain to the last two elements.

Italian version

Young People vs Life


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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Italian version