I am a man of Rome, Italy. Some of my ancestors, many centuries ago, were already citizens of Rome. So I guess I am a real Roman, or sort of, since some barbaric blood must unquestionably flow in my veins, Germanic probably and Gallic from the Alpine region.
My mother tongue is Italian, not very different from the Latin spoken by the common people at the times of the late Roman Empire.
The reason I am attempting to communicate in this Northern language – which I do not master entirely and which, though a bit chilly to my heart, I find not entirely deprived of charm – is that variety excites me like a drug and I am tired of talking mostly to my countrymen, this lingua franca, English, allowing me hopefully a wider exchange of ideas.
Why this blog
One reason, I have said, is wider communication.
But what can a Roman of today say to the world? Such a big statement (if there weren’t the Web to make it not entirely such.)
I think it is a great privilege to be born and to be raised here, such a special place, to the extent that something must have penetrated, something distinctive and worthy of being transmitted – in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.
I hope for comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.
Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European.
However, as she was already universal during the ancient Roman days, she has continued to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (*).
Religion will not be a central topic here (there excepting ancient religions, of course) since, greatly respecting all faiths I personally have none, being an agnostic.
I like to think that I am similar to those Romans of the past who counted mostly on knowledge and reason (the followers of Epicure, Ἐπίκουρος – one among many possible ancient examples.)
Three Reasons for Uniqueness
Ages have passed since this great city was the capital of the known world, this role now being played by New York, London or Shanghai, perhaps.
Rome is though unique in the first place because “among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – she is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village but rather finding herself often in the middle of world events and, equally often, paying for that a price (**).”
Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here and these roots are sacred – to me surely, and I think and hope to most of us.
These roots we have to rediscover in order to better open up to others in a new spirit of humanitas and conciliation (two chief components of the everlasting Roman mind.)
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new attitude which may enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes looming ahead which might cause our swift decline.
Lastly, Rome, the eternal city, is unique because she is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if not the most beautiful.
Beyond her imperial testimonies, her stupendous urban spaces and squares, even small piazzas and alleys radiate that “sacred aura” which comes from the millennia and to which ever increasing multitudes from every land come to pay their tribute.
The capital of our beloved and civilised French cousins, Lutetia Parisiorum (it’s how the Romans called Paris, after the Parisii, a tribe of the Gallic Senones,) was not but a village until the year 1000 AD. “1700 years younger than Rome! It shows, one can feel it (***).”
Fragments Sent in a Bottle
Scattered fragments of this special identity inserted in a bottle and sent across the Web: this shall be the activity of this blog.
The conveyor of the message is not so important in relation to the greatness of the source and to one ingredient this conveyor might, willingly or unwillingly, possess: he perhaps being like a fossil from a distant past which is dead though, astoundingly enough, alive yet in so many Italians.
Let us admit it. In some central and especially southern areas of this country, minds and habits survive that may puzzle foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards modernity appear evident. Are they only disadvantages?
All Things Considered
This and other topics will be discussed here by a 60-year-old Roman (2014: 66) whose knowledge can be located at a medium level, with interfaces towards the upper and the lower layers of knowledge.
He will try his best to transmit something useful to others (and to himself) having been an ancient-history & literature educator for 16 years, then converted to Systems Engineering & Training for the last 14 years.
He hopes this blog will allow him to brush up humanities back, which is daunting at his age (not to mention the crazy idea of blogging in English, Italian and bits of other languages.)
[Of course the MoR will remain my main home it goes without saying]
It’s been a tour de force. I’ll here summarize Manius’ plot as it unfolds so far as soon as possible. And I will reply to comments here at the MoR.
[Update: comments have been replied to, but, as for Manius’ plot, I don’t know people, after all that is happening in North Africa and Libya, which certainly concerns Roma (a main theme here at this blog.)
Plus I have another post in mind on Giulio Andreotti, Aldo Moro, Banda della Magliana, Berlusconi, after dear Zeus is watching’ post and the debate around it: very intriguing idea this blogger had, it suffice to watch the trailer below I owe to Zeus.
Who, by the way, being watching, we better ALL behave folks 😉
We will see (which I say when I usually do nothing.)
After aperitivo at the bar the conversation continues to unwind at our home while we consume a simple dinner made of spaghettoni al ragù, cheese with a side dish of boiled vegetables, all washed down with Chianti and some Grappa as digestivo.
Classicus and King Servius Tullius
Extropian: “In my Calonghi Latin dictionary classis means both ‘fleet’ and ‘social class’; classicus is both a ‘sailor’ and ‘a member of the first Servian class of citizens’, out of the five tax classes set up by the Roman King Servius Tullius.
Giorgio: “It implies some timeless worth, it is known. Less known perhaps the origin of the notion. In the 2nd century CE Aulus Gellius, a Roman grammarian, [see image below] in his Noctes Atticae (Attic nights) – I just found out – was the first to mean by classicus ‘a writer of the first Servian class’ (classicus scriptor). He was the first to connect via a metaphor 1) literary and 2) social excellence. Classicus to him was a first-class & exemplary writer.
Extropian: “Well, it somewhat reflected the elitism of antiquity.”
Flavia: “Yes, but I’d say excellence is excellence. Horace and Virgil were of humble background (Horace – read a reply to Sledpress on him – was even the son of a freed slave,) but were revered as excellent (and timeless) as soon as their works came out.”
Giorgio: “Horace himself refers to his Odes as timeless. But people didn’t call them classici. The new meaning didn’t immediately spread. In the 5th and 6th centuries CE authors such as Martianus Capella, Fulgentius and Boethius began to reconsider earlier pagan authors as models of style and thought, although again no use was made of the term classicus in the sense Gellius did.”
Extropian: “I see.”
Classicus to Renaissance People
Giorgio: “And throughout the Middle Ages too we have the concept but not the word for it. Until we get to the Renaissance men, in 1400s-1500s CE.
In their Latin classicus refers again to something seen as timeless and as a standard of excellence: to the people of the Renaissance [see a Palladian villa above] the Greek and Roman past was THE classicus exemplary model in all fields.”
Mario: “In fact we still say ‘Classical Antiquity’. Of course the Renaissance is neoclassical ante litteram since it found inspiration in Antiquity and looked down upon the Middle Ages.
By the way, wasn’t the second half of the 18th century labelled as neoclassical?”
At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1748) a long period of peace ensued in Europe. Winckelmann arrived in Rome in 1755. He there conceived his master-work History of Ancient Art(1764) which influenced the entire neoclassical attitude from that year onwards and basically blew the minds (to mention the Germans only) of people like Hölderlin, Goethe, Lessing, Herder, Heine, Nietzsche etc. The marriage and the tyranny of Greece over Germany started with him.”
Giorgio: Those were the days of the Grand Tour. People flocked to Italy and especially to Rome to study classical culture. Rome with all her statues etc. also became a huge workshop of copies purchased worldwide. Bartolomeo Cavaceppi was the best sculptor to make casts, copies and fakes.
Cavaceppi’s studio was in via del Babbuino, close to Caffè Greco (opened in 1760, see above,) to via del Corso (where Goethe lived at num 18 between 1786 & 1788,) to Piazza di Spagna: all popular places among the expatriates of the time. Cavaceppi’s shop was a must-see. Goethe was there and Canova himself was greatly impressed by Cavaceppi’s atelier. Goethe bought a cast of the Juno Ludovisi [see the last big picture below] but I forgot from whom though.
Anton Raphael Mengs, Jacques-Louis David, the Scottish architect Robert Adam, Canova, Piranesi with his efforts to build a map of Ancient Rome: surely a great period for our city.”
[The exhibition catalog is now on the living room table. Grappa is unfortunately served. Art and Bacchus are a perfect match since Homer, what did you think …]
Giorgio: “Last (but least) Italians played the guitar quite a lot during the 18th c. before the Spanish took over. I am studying Mauro Giuliani and Ferdinando Carulli who composed delightful classical pieces for this instrument, mixing sober taste (Giuliani) or brilliant grace (Carulli) with rationality.”
Extropian (reading the catalog): “New archaeological discoveries fuelled the Roman and Greek frenzy. A great number of statues and mosaics were unearthed and reproduced. Décor and clothes were created in the neoclassical style in Europe and in the New World. Also Nero’s Domus Aurea wall paintings – at that time thought to belong to Titus’ thermae – were reproduced on mansions, on decorative furniture etc.
[Hope you can reach this great 3d reconstruction of Roman Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea (see another movie below too:) you’ll think you are in a 18th century rich palace!]
The spirit of the Ancients and of the Enlightenment (Age of reason) splendidly matched. Classical triumphed and influenced the French and American Revolutions.”
Classicism as a Concept. Mere Chance?
Extropian: “Classic, more generic for valuable, is related to classical … Wait a minute. Such fundamental concept going back to this Aulus Gellius, an almost unknown, second-rate Roman writer? Something is wrong here.”
What would modern aesthetics have done for a single general concept that could embrace Raphael, Racine, Mozart, and Goethe, if Gellius never lived?
Extropian: “Or if Servius Tullius didn’t divide Rome into 5 classes! I wonder whether we know the exact connection Gellius-Renaissance, but certainly goddess Fortune plays her tricks when making ideas successful or not, as Curtius also suggests.”
Grappa is making all blurred at this point.
That is, we have traced some origins but couldn’t define that general concept that can embrace Horace, Mozart, Mauro Giuliani, Haydn, Raphael, Schubert, Pindar, Canova, Racine, Goethe, Jane Austen and many elements of British and American Georgian culture.
Late evening in a cozy bar of our rione where we wash down Spanish tapas with Cartizze Prosecco.
Our before-dinner aperitivo, once in a while.
Mario: “You recently wondered how come far eastern little girls, hence culturally ‘alien’ in some way, can perfectly play European ‘classical music’ (in the narrow sense.) You also added that such music (from 1750 to 1830 roughly) originated in that crossroads between Germania and Italia, once the ancient frontier or limes of the Roman Empire which separated the Roman from the non Roman.”
Flavia: “Your associations are bizarre.”
Giorgio: “Allow me to be bizarre at least in my blog amore.”
Extropian: “I remember you saying at the end of a post on music that Mozart who came from that area perfectly combined Italian taste with German knowledge.”
Giorgio: “Yes, a perfect fruit of that cross-way region, although Schubert shouldn’t be ignored either.”
As we said in our previous installment this exchange of favours is important to establish a network based on reciprocal dependence.
Now in the last 3 decades scholars have focused their attention on ancient gift societies and on client-patron relations in ancient Rome and Greece. Based on the mutual exchange of benefits such relations were at the core of the social fabric in Greece and Rome, although we will here speak of Rome only.
Brazil and Livy
As I said to Paul I got excited that some scholars of ancient Rome seek to better interpret passages by Livy, Plautus or Cicero via the analysis of the social networks of Latin America or of Mediterranean villages.
Brazil is interesting because the native cultures were not much developed hence some archaic Portuguese traits were preserved.
Surveys of clientage in 19th century Brazil are thought to shed light on Livy’s use of clientes. Also amigos (friends) in Brazilian, and amici in Latin, seem to be used in exactly the same way, different from our modern way but still present in Malta and southern Italy.
[see R. Graham, Patronage and Politics in 19th Century Brazil, Stanford, Ca., 1990]
Clientes Preferred to be Called Amici
Almost everyone was a client in ancient Rome. A person could be client and patron at the same time. Entire provinces and nations could be clients.
But clients didn’t like to be called clientes. They preferred to be called amici (friends) since cliens implied subordination.
Now the term amicus is ambiguous. It could mean a disinterested relation (see Cicero’s ideal friendship in Laelius de amicitia) but also a relation of ‘mutual serviceability’ where benefits of any kind, called beneficia, were exchanged. Seneca analyses beneficia with all its implications in his De Beneficiis.
Through amicitiae (friendships) anything could be attained in the Roman society: land, safety, magistracies, jobs, money etc. Personalised relationships ruled and merit counted little.
[For example the nobility clique hated and ousted talented non-nobles. A super general but newcomer like Gaius Marius had chance to be elected consul on very special occasions only, for example when inept noble generals had made Rome vulnerable to the Cimbri and Teutons]
No Contacts, no Future
The common person with no contacts in Rome (or in Athens) basically starved. On another social level, if the politician didn’t build a solid network by ‘treating’ his voters with banquets favours gifts money etc., ie if he didn’t ‘corrupt them’ (practised but frowned upon today; part of an ‘ethical’ system in ancient times instead: grasping such cultural differences is crucial) he had no political future.
It’d be interesting to well analyse how Julius Caesar reached power.
Most of Cicero’s letters relate to favour exchanges. They also reveal how Caesar’s attitude towards Cicero was mafioso in the sense that he tried to entice him into a mutual exchange of favours in order to manipulate him.
Originally we had a number of strictly closed unities – the household under the control of a master and the clan originated out of the breaking-up of such households. To these unities there further belonged the dependents or “listeners” (-clientes-, from -cluere-), not guests or slaves but those individuals who lived in one of such unity in a condition of protected, dependant freedom: refugees, freedmen, poor people. These were the clients.
To most scholars the clients made up the ‘plebeians’, while the original clans or gentes (the Aemilii, Valerii, Claudii, Fabii, Cornelii, Manlii etc. ) corresponded to the ‘patricians’ (both patronus and patricius come from pater, father.)
The relation between the two orders was a client-patron relationship and it was originally sacred.
The Case of the Fabii’s Private Army
The gentes were important especially during the Republic. The Fabii for example were so powerful as to conduct a personal, family war with Veii (velut familiare bellum, notes Livy in II, 48-49.) Trapped though by the Etruscans they were all cut down to a man in 479 BCE.
How many were the Fabii?
According to Livy “sex et trecenti milites [306 soldiers,] omnes patricii [all patricians,] omnes unius gentis [all from the same gens]…sequebantur turba propria alia cognatorum sodaliumque [followed by a crowd made up partly of their own relatives and friends]…. alia publica sollicitudine excitata, favore et admiratione stupens [… partly of those who shared the public anxiety, and could not find words to express their affection and admiration].”
Not very clear but I guess ‘friends’ (sodales is close to amici) were clientes and the rest sympathisers ie clientes too possibly. An army, it has been calculated, of 4000-5000 people wholly, with the clients clearly outnumbering the patricians.
Were Caesar and Pompey Godfathers?
Clans will undergo big changes in the course of time and it seems very likely to me that late-Republic big patrons such as Caesar and Pompey, apart from the great number of clients, were also capable of controlling a certain amount of organized thugs by indirectly controlling numerous collegia (criminal and non criminal organizations) in Rome. Caesar, through Clodius perhaps, controlled many collegia probably. Incidentally, Clodius was killed on the via Appia by Milo‘s mob.
Which doesn’t mean Caesar or Pompey were like the modern godfathers, but only that there are similarities in the respective cultural backgrounds.
Last May Cheri, a charming blogger from California, went to Greece for a seminar on Alcibiades. I hence posted on her blog a few hasty notes on this key figure of Greek history, in case they were of any help.
Here is the text (edited a bit.)
Tragedy of Unreason
“Alcibiades to me is the golden dude of classical Greece, loved (and hated) by the Athenians immensely, a figure that shows both the splendour and the weaknesses of Athens in her golden time, the 5th century BCE. The Athenians, who were teaching the world to use reason efficiently, also knew they were capable of the utmost unreason, and were laughing at that while watching the comedies of Aristophanes.
This whole thing, the fall of Athens, smells in fact of tragedy, of irrationality. The facts are known if you have read Thucydides. It pains me that one of the most brilliant pupils of Socrates, like the most perfumed flower in the most beautiful garden, proved poisonous. Alcibiades’ mentor had always tried to bring to measure and to purity of reason a totally unprincipled, self-centred and often ‘going off the rails’ pupil.
In this the Greeks remind me of the Germans a bit. Both incredibly deep and terribly rational and irrational at the same time. And in fact Nietzsche figured Greek irrationality out not by chance, and, again not by chance in the years of the fall of Athens the Bacchae by Euripides were on stage.
Alcibiades was beautiful and gifted in everything – even as an athlete in Olympia – but, when he once met a teacher on the street and asked him if he had any works by Homer, and having the teacher said “No, I haven’t”, he punched him on the nose and knocked him down. This was Alcibiades. Charming and crazy.
There are many characters in this tragedy, the annihilation of classical Greece, where the extreme quarrelsomeness and disunity of the Greeks stands out, within and without their cities, even in moments of extreme danger. Among such characters are Sparta, Athens, Socrates, Nicias, Syracuse, Alcibiades, Sophocles, Euripides etc.
According to Thucydides and Plutarch, Alcibiades had conceived an unimaginable plan for defeating Sparta. By conquering Syracuse first, in Sicily, and Carthage, Libya and Greek South Italy afterwards, he intended to get back to Greece with the immense resources thus accumulated and crush the Spartans.
Syracuse was as powerful as Athens and possibly bigger, the biggest Greek city of the Mediterranean.
Ancient Greeks’ New World
It is to be noted that Greek South Italy – I’m certainly not saying this because I am Italian – was considered by mainland Greece as America has always been considered by Europeans: a myth, a land of promise, of unlimited resources. Greece was smaller and much less fertile. Therefore many Athenians, young and old, were day dreaming together with their golden boy, they were day dreaming about a marvellous and more prosperous future. A bit like Alexander who, one century later, will dream (and will set out) eastwards, instead of westwards, in order to conquer new lands.
Before the departure for Sicily, The Trojan Women by Euripides was first performed in 415 BCE. In this work the prophetess Cassandra (see Karen Tiegren above as Cassandra) condemns the Greeks for going to war against Troy. We perceive Euripides’ disgust vis-à-vis the Athenian hubris of the moment. Also Thucydides considers the Sicilian expedition as an act of arrogance and as an example of a folk, the Athenians, misguided by their emotions.
We have to consider that the sublime Parthenon that you people are now admiring was considered by many Athenians as an act of arrogance or hubris. Many much preferred the old temple of Athena at the Acropolis – see below –, a simpler and more sober shrine. Of course the Parthenon is fantastic but the mixed emotions of the Athenians during their greatest century are interesting.
We know of the plague that hit Athens during the war. Thucydides considered it as a metaphor of the ruin that will destroy the wonderful culture created by Pericles and those around him.
This terrible Peloponnesian war and the changes it provoked are well expressed by the Oedipus the King by Sophocles, first performed in 429. A great king, optimist, intoxicated by his success and capable of solving riddles ends up a blind, desperate wretch who has too late understood the nature of the horrible forces he cannot control.
Nicias, one of Alcibiades’s rivals, was a general and owner of a big portion of the silver mines around Attica’s Mt. Laurium, a sort of lager and one of the chief sources of revenue for Athens.
Sparta Won but Left Nothing
Sparta disliked all that Athens represented. Sparta was the winner and Athens the loser. The Spartans were very admired in antiquity but have not left anything of value in my view (but we must recognize that they voted against the total erasure of Athens). Athens left us a wonderful culture and a model for future democracies; Sparta was instead a model for all future regimes based on racism and eugenics (such as the Nazi).
The Spartans were a minority of war lords brutally ruling a totally enslaved majority of Helots.
But they were rational and prudent. And had charm too. It is known they combed their long hair for quite a time before engaging in battle. When their enemies saw the Spartans combing, it was time for quaking.”
Andreas Kluth, the Hannibal man, asked me to write something about Gramsci in 300 words. I failed. These are 795 words.
I studied Gramsci in my twenties and he surely helped me greatly. I think important to say his thought to be:
1) in progress, more formative to me than any sedentary conclusions, building up upon a list of themes & reflecting on them in fragmentary notes from thousands of different viewpoints and within a dreadful context – fascism arising, jail isolation, uncertainty for his own life. All so compelling and mind expanding;
2) dialogic and dialectic.
Dialogic. G’s ideas bounce on one another also in relation to other authors’ even-opposite ideas – Gramsci ‘discusses with the enemy’ so to say. A solitary dialogue though, since jail solitude brought him to solipsism, which creates like a tragic, bewitching (and a bit claustrophobic) atmosphere.
The many ‘tools’ he created such as ‘cultural hegemony’ (close to ‘seduction’), or his notion of ‘intellectuals’, stem from such inner dialogue, which can be baffling to people used to clear definitions – I well understand – but, such brain storming is contagious and the attentive reader is taught to form his / her mental dialogues on anything he / she researches.
Dialectic. It refers to Heraclitus & Hegel, implying that all in history is ‘becoming’ & a contradictory process with actions, reactions, conciliations etc. Gramsci’s dialectic is concrete, anti-idealistic. For example, the Rousseauesque pedagogy – the ‘laissez-faire’ of ‘active’ schools – was seen by him as a reaction to the coercive Jesuitical schools, so not good or bad ‘per se’. But he tried to favour an education where both the elements of discipline and fascination were present.
Any idea had to be seen in its historical context and was hence transient (Marxism included.) When the Russian revolution burst he wrote it was a revolution ‘against the Capital’ (ie against Marx’s theories,) a scandal within the Comintern.
In many respects he considered America much more progressive than Stalin’s Russia;
3) polymathic. Gramsci is wide-ranging, like the men of the Renaissance. Besides there are similarities between his ideas and Leonardo da Vinci’s, and their writing styles too;
5) anti-élite.Anti-chic, and certainly not the ‘smoking Gitanes and wearing black turtlenecks’ type of intellectual – to quote Andreas -, to him knowledge & refinement are not classy and must be spread to everyone. Born to a backward Sardinian peasant milieu he had succeeded in becoming a great European intellectual, which made him believe that everyone could be a philosopher at various degrees, and that a solid education of the working class was possible;
6) greatly written.Croce, Gramsci, Gobetti, Gentile were all great writers, like Hegel and Marx were. G’s texts are like permeated by a Hölderlin’sHeilige Nüchternheit (sacred sobriety.) As Giorgio Baratta observes, “his style, sober and exact, opens wide spaces that make the reader fly, but the flight is not grandiloquent.” His works have been recognized since they were first published as masterpieces of our language and literature. His Prison Letters have the depth of Tolstoy, an author close to him in many respects;
7) historic. Italian, European and world history are considered, from the end of the ancient Roman Republic onwards, and innumerable aspects are analysed. For a young Italian like me it meant an invaluable know-yourself experience. What I had passively learned at school could finally bear some fruit, also the teachings of my father, that I could fully appreciate only after reading Gramsci.
Gramsci’s history is as close to us as family’s history can be. It’s his magic. It touches the soul deeply.
It is also the concrete history of ideas circulating in the various socio-economic groups at a given time, with catalogues of magazines, newspapers, movements, intellectuals (often categorized with humorous nicks: it’s his peasant culture showing now and then), with the aim of understanding the currents and exact mechanisms of cultural hegemony.
He does that as for Italy, other European and non European countries. He analyses the elements that, in his view, make the United States the ‘hegemonic force’ in the world and also identifies like some cracks in this hegemonic structure, in their being too virgin and too young as a nation, with a melting pot of too many cultures.
Too long a story. Americanism in Gramsci is so crucial I’m thinking of a post where, in a dialogue occurred in the 30s, a few fictional European characters try to explain to readers their view of America, ie Gramsci’s view.
The United States – as Gramsci put it – are “the greatest collective effort ever existed to create with unheard of rapidity and a consciousness of purpose never seen in history a new type of worker and man.”
PS. Gramsci and Croce are well known in the English-speaking countries. The British ex prime minister Gordon Brown said Gramsci was one of his mentors. No idea if this is complimenting Gramsci or not… 🙂
MoR:“Douglas, you are a friend and you raise here a big philosophical question: whether man can reach truth. I’m not qualified, my wife is the epistemologist of the family (she has a degree on philosophy of science) and all I understood (from our quarrels) is that ‘scientific’ research is all about trying to go beyond doxa, ie biased opinion, so you hit the nail on the head I believe.
By ‘research is progressing’ I meant: ok, we will possibly never ‘know’ these folks (Saxons invading Britain, Macedonians at the times of Alexander etc.) but the various ‘pictures’ we have of them are enriched day by day, researchers communicating more (such ‘pictures’ are interrelated), and, our sources being not only ancient literary texts (which reflect the view of the writer) but of course also the (less biased?) ‘data’ from archaeology, biology, from studies on agricultural techniques, fossil seeds etc.
As an example (also of various doxas coexisting), the ‘picture(s)’ of Rome’s fall – the period 300-600 CE, ‘late antiquity’ ie between antiquity and middle ages – have changed dramatically in the minds of many specialists, I believe, although the public still thinks in terms of a Gibbon’s progressively decadent, imploding empire (Gibbons mentioned Rome’s ‘immoderate greatness’ so that “the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight” plus he blamed Christianity for Rome’s weakening) which received the last blow by totally ‘rough’ Germanic barbarians.
Who is right? I don’t know, these younger historians though surely profiting from a lot more of multi-disciplinary data I think.
the ‘late’ Roman empire was a total success story.
Germanic, non Roman, Europe was a two-speed reality (no new thing lol,) one portion being much more civilised than we had thought, surely influenced by Rome but absolutely non Roman (so this doesn’t include Bavaria or Austria, that were romanized, and, not by chance, when ‘Nordic’ Luther arrived, they said: no thanks).
So what the hell happened? Why healthy Rome fell?
Possibly because, blinded by her sense of superiority, Rome made fatal mistakes, and was murdered by the German Goths. Within though a period of ‘collaboration’ with the Germans.
[No easy topic the fall of Rome. Here’s a big list of theories on it.]
[I believe Christianity helped a bit (love your enemy blah blah, Gibbon in this was right imo), but I still have to figure out to which extent.]
J. Caesar Admired German Valour
MoR:PS. Excuse my logorrhea, such ‘collaboration’ between Germans and Romans was started by Julius Caesar the Myth. One reason he conquered Gaul [today’s France, Luxembourg and Belgium] was that the Germans, much stronger than the Gauls or Celts, were crossing the Rhenus (Rhine) in flocks and invading Gaul (so Caesar by conquering Gaul postponed an invasion that occurred much later with the German Franks, thence the name of France.)
Therefore Caesar, after defeating the Germans of Ariovistus, said to the toughest prisoners: “I admire your valour, so I give you a choice: either to be sold in the slave markets or to become my personal guard”. I think the Germans preferred the latter also because it was in their culture to follow the leader that proved most valorous.
Caesar took a risk, but not that much I believe. He belonged to the impoverished nobility and was a son of the slums of Rome (Subura) where he probably had lived in contact with Germans and Gauls long enough to understand their mentality. And surely, in the conquest of Gaul that ensued, the Germans proved much more faithful to Caesar than the Celts allied to the Romans. From that day many Roman emperors had German gorillas protecting them – not to mention foot soldiers and Cavalry, also used by Caesar.
Douglas: MoR, thus began the Praetorian Guard (under Augustus, successor to Julius) which became the controllers of the fates of emperors for 300 years until Constantine disbanded them. Perhaps that had something to do with the fall of Rome? Hitler seemed to have read his history well and created his own guard but tried to control them utterly and was quite successful in maintaining their total loyalty. Did il Duce? Certainly, he had his personal guard but they failed to protect him in the end from the citizens.
I think (to get back to history and understanding the common citizen of any culture or state) that with the expansion of literacy came more understanding. One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite. Ancient Rome (and Athens, Egypt, and so forth) are known by what its rulers (for the most part) decided was important (and, often, flattering). To learn about the average citizen, we must make guesses and extrapolations based on myths and legends and on relics found. Do we taint these guesses and extrapolations with our own biases? Probably so.
But my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.
my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.
It certainly was Douglas.
MoR:[talking to both Douglas and Phil] “That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people, do envy.
As for the Praetorian guard, I just now read in the Wikipedia that their role – according to who wrote the article – was of stability to the Empire on the whole. I don’t think though the Praetorian guard (a substantial army) were Germans (I only believe a few gorillas around many emperors were). And maybe some of the Praetorians were, I don’t know. I’m sure instead the legions who fought against the enemies of Rome had a progressively increasing number of Germans, which in the end became a problem possibly.
Rome is an Idea
Rome was more an idea, she was pretty international. The emperors themselves (Spanish, Arab etc.) could come from any land of the empire (like the Popes.)
It is little known that Caesar’s legions who conquered Gaul came mostly from Gallia Cisalpina, today’s northern Italy (80% sure). Big difference was there between these Italian Gauls and, so to say, the French ones. The former were Celts too (though with doses of Roman & Latin blood) but wore the toga (Gallia Togata is another name for it), eg were deeply romanized (Virgil, Pompey the Great etc. came from there), hence immensely more faithful to Rome than any other external people.
They only lacked regular Roman citizenship, which was given them as a prize by Caesar at the end of his Celtic wars. So Caesar – no Hitler or Mussolini indeed – had also the merit to create the unity of Italians, re-attained only 150 years ago!
Do We Know the ‘Average’ Roman?
One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite.
True, but pls, allow me, we know something (I’d say a lot) about the average Roman too (who btw exchanged letters – the middle class – but we have lost most of them). Comedies were for the common people as well, or they would have been unsuccessful – there were no cinema or TV, thence theatre was terribly important – plus we have thousands of graffiti – whole sentences, poems etc. – written by the upper middle and lower classes: you probably under estimate the complexity of ancient society, no less structured than ours. Yes, the lower classes could be literate too, although, ok, the rate of illiteracy was higher, but, since religion touched the middle and the lower milieus especially, and we knowing A LOT about it (by Roman religion I mean ALL the cults present in Rome, Christianity included) I can infer that:
We know a lot about the poor people as well. The whole (monumentally documented) history of the progressive success of Christianity tells tons of things about the lower classes of the whole empire from the times of early Christians onwards. Just think of the letters by Paul of Tarsus: he had to persuade the non Pagan populace of the Empire – slaves included: see image below – but most of all he had to inspire & guide the faith of the already Christian elements – his message hence being directed to ALL social classes, it goes without saying.
I mean, we even know – due to the translations of the Bible – the Greek & Latin language actually spoken by the populace: for the reasons you mention the language of the poor and of the rich differed in sophistication.
As for simple-to-the-masses Latin the first translations of the Bible – Jerome’s not by chance is called ‘vulgata’, from vulgus, populace – appeared in the 4th century CE if I’m not wrong. They were written in non literary, ‘vulgar’ Latin, – eg that everyone could understand – to the extent that today’s Italians with a high-school diploma can more or less read them, vulgar Latin and Italian being closely related (whatever you Phil may think about it lol 🙂 ).
I have to stop this, Douglas. Thanks for obliging this lazy old man to work.
That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people on the whole, do envy.
Actually, it is both of those men who made the association. Not unusual for more modern despots to see themselves in the same light as men whom history has portrayed as great.
(Gen. Patton saw himself as a reincarnation of soldiers of the past and, I suspect, great generals and military leaders)
Julius took control of the political structure of Rome and turned it away from being a true republic of the times. He had himself declared dictator. He took total control of both the political and military structures. And was assassinated for it. But he laid the groundwork for Augustus to become Emperor. In some ways, he created the Roman Empire. First, by expanding the territory under its control and, second, by changing its political structure and laying the groundwork for dictatorial rule.
As I understand it, the literacy rate of Rome was ~15%. This would be the elite ruling class and the “middle class”. The “middle class” would be better described as the merchant class. This would be where the graffiti came from, as well as the letters.
When I spoke of the correspondence of American citizens, it began with the literate classes. But later it expanded into the general public as education expanded. We were fortunate that we began as a country after the invention of the printing press and at the beginning of the expansion of literacy. It is more the good fortune of our time period than anything else.
Try to understand, I am not denigrating Rome’s history. I am trying to explain my scepticism of history in general before the advent of the spread of literacy.
As for the human mind, I’ve often thought about the metaphor of the museum.
Our mind, one of the functions of our brain ‘and other parts of our body’ (Sledpress’ objection I found interesting,) contains and allows that we manifest the infinite traces of our past (past conceptions, language, behaviours) from Stone Age or earlier onwards. Evolution enters the equation, but we will leave it alone for now.
Whatever world region we are from, we should be concerned about probing such repository I believe, that is our roots or cultural ID.
Language is an important portion of this ID. What a great digging tool for example etymology is, ie history of words (shown a bit in our previous post, see a good on-line tool) although lots of things are there well beyond words (see points I and IV below.)
A few examples, to better understand.
(Italian-mind related, but they could hopefully work as a method example to different minds as well)
“Not long ago my friend Mario took me for a drive on his stupendous vintage 1960 Lancia Flavia (see image below.) Mario is from Naples, a South Italian city founded by the Greeks in the 8th cent. BCE.
On the way back I exclaimed merrily: ‘Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled as smoothly as olive oil!’
Mario snapped with a worried look: “Hush! hush! Don’t you say that!”
I well knew what he meant:
“Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down or anything bad to happen to us?” as if the mereutterance of happiness would attract ill luck or the envy from someone … Well, the envy from whom?
The ancient classical Greeks (V cent. BCE) believed their gods lived an eternal blissful life and envied men tooprosperous that dared to get close to their happiness. They then humbled and punished them. That ‘too prosperous’ means it was excess and arrogance (ὕβρις) that was basically abhorred by the Olympian gods, which made people afraid of showing their happiness, or of being arrogant. It was like a socio-religious regulation valve, plus a factor without a doubt of the mostly upper-class (tho not exclusively) marvellous ‘5th cent. BC’ Greek perfect equilibrium.
Now, 2400 years later (!) people in Southern Italy and Greece are still afraid of expressing satisfaction when things are going WELL, lest ‘something’ might spot them and whack them.
Such a great item in their museum mind allow me to say!!
A personification of Goddess Fortuna (“they invoked their fortune”) seen as something capricious (“the tricks of fortune”) is deeply impressed in modern Western minds and language;
The wheel of fortune also used in many popular TV shows is a survival of the goddess, often represented with a wheel at her side (read more)
III.When we say ‘deep in my heart‘ or ‘she / he broke my heart’ we refer to a scientific superseded idea that the heart, and not the brain, is the seat of emotions. The Stoics saw in the heart the seat of the soul, Aristotle the seat of reason and emotion, the Roman physician Galenus the seat of emotions etc.
Another great mind item this laughter – I must record it some day – that belongs to the modern Roman mind, certainly not to the Greek one, modern or non modern.
Update. Here is a sample of such laughter. Click on these words to listen to it: Marina’s (and MoR’s) laughter.
In short, before more details if you will
There’s like a hugemessyarchive in our head so stuffed with things that just beg to be organized a bit and come to light.
Let’s get it all out dear readers. With meditation, concentration and fertile idea-exchanging let us make that inventory my good old Mentor used to mention us when we were so young.
As for my own cultural ID, I am trying to dig a bit with the present blog.
[see in-depth details from our posts. Skip the first section – similar to the above writing – and start reading from Socrates’ T-shirt big face onwards – like the one above]
The whole thing is in fact tough and I’m a bit breathless.
Not because of the poems – they are ready (and will be in progress in any case.) It is the cultural context around them that has exhausted – and troubled me – a bit.
I’ll try to explain.
Andreas Kluth’s Hannibal blog – a place extraordinaire I stumbled upon months ago – had once presented a fascinating metaphor possibly created by a certain Professor Phillip Cary.
“You can think – Andreas wrote – of “Western culture” as a human body:
[nums by MoR instead of stars].
1. The left leg is ancient Athens and Rome, Socrates and Aristotle;
2. the right leg is Jerusalem and the Bible, Moses and Jesus;
3. the crotch is the end of the Roman empire when the two “legs” met ;
4. the torso is the Middle Ages, when the two traditions became one [Dante, MoR];
[etc etc up to the rest of the body that can be pondered over at the Hannibal blog, *here* and *there*;MoR]
Ok. The left leg (1) – the Classical – has been THE main topic of this blog so far.
The research around my Greek and Latin classes though caused the other leg (2) – the Judeo-Christian – to more or less pound on my head.
Ouch what a blow my dear readers! – and later I might tell you why.
Mario: A blow? Why TH do you care? Just go ahead with the left leg, you always were a leftist ah ah ah!
MoR: You moron, MY problem is the ancient languages classes Mario! Now it turns that, while the classical texts are hard (leg 1), the Judeo-Christian ones (leg 2) are often that easy – Old and New Testament alike – that even ababy can read them, for reasons fascinating not the place here to discuss.
[I know there are comics, that there are web sites plus the Latin and Greek Wikipedia- which I adore. But I always prefer the best literature for language learning: ie starting with what is matchless]
Extropian: MoR is right. Wanna get into mountain climbing? Forget the Everest and start with simple (tho captivating) hills.
MoR: Ok ok Extropian, but you 2 didn’t get the MAIN point.
I’m not only facing here the daunting task of presenting the context of the greatest spiritual revolution the West ever had – the switch from Paganism to Christianity. And btw I’m a guy who, revering the Classical as much as I do, is not exactly excited to see the DEATH of it …
Extropian: “Num 3, the crotch?
MoR: The crotch, yes. Problem being: there’s a lot more, and a lot earlier.
Extropian: Urghhh! A LOT earlier??
MoR: Yyyeees! While trying to figure out the spiritual context of the poems, much to my horror (and fascination) did I realise that the (Judeo)-Christian leg was part of bigger – much more ancient – streams originating from Egypt and from the East (both Middle and Far East.)
To be more precise – and in a reversed order: from Egypt, Thrace, Anatolia, Palestine (the Jews, naturally, crucial,) Mesopotamia, Persia AND India.
MoR: I’ll repeat it! The Greco-Romans had already encountered A LOT EARLIER that much wideroriental humus – of which the Judeo-Christian leg was just a part – much earlier I mean than when we finally get to the darn crotch – ie the switching to Christianity and soon after that cataclysm, ie thehorribleend of the Roman empire.
Extropian:[*lost in reflection, eyes gleaming*] Mmmm, how MUCH earlier …
MoR: 800-850 years earlier, more or less. I’ll check better but I’d bet on it.
Long pause. Pauses are important. The sun begins to shine through the clouds folds over the eternal city … We drink strong coffee.
MoR: Which led me to reconsider the Judeo-Christian tradition as being NOT TOTALLY EXTRANEOUS to the Classical World (!) as I first had thought.
A kind of a BLOW, plus a troublingone because I got fascinated by it.
I told Lichanos over at his blog – his posts inspired me as for the Jewish heritage: “I feel the need of coming to terms with both traditions or legs – I said – AND, should I get back to Christianity, I will SUE you …” 🙂
The silence in my study-room is now disturbed only by Mario chesmadonna piano piano … My friends love me and they are worried. I am just excited.
This was happening yesterday in an apartment in Rome.
On another area of the planet 70 million Hindus plus 40,000 Indian politicians were /are about to gather near the banks of the Ganges. The water is cold. It is flowing to the plains directly from the Himalayas. The water is also dirty.
Not that the Indians will care – about the cold or the dirtiness. All they care about – the poor and the low caste, the rich and the high caste – is this sacred water purifying them from their sins and helping them with better reincarnations.
The Kumbh Mela hindu festival might though be special this year. The convergence of the 12-yearly Kumbh Mela with the longest solar eclipse of the millennium – it is believed –could guarantee an end to the reincarnation cycle.
Note. Sin. Purified by sacredwater. ‘Souls’ and ‘bodies’ separated butincessantly reuniting in a reincarnation cycle of life anddeath.
Ah what a marvellous introduction to what we are about to narrate!
There’s evidence of the millenary presence of the Jews in the city. Of the over 40 imperial Rome catacombs unveiled 6 are Jewish. At the end of the catacomb period a Jewish cemetery rose around Porta Portese. We also know of at least one synagogue in Ostia antica and of several in Trastevere.
The arch of Titus is also an indirect sign of presence. The Roman generals in triumph were usually followed by the captives in fetters, although on one arch panel we see only the head of the procession – but someone says it shows also prisoners – with the riches looted in Jerusalem, among which the seven-branched menorah.
By the way, where is the splendid gold menorah gone? Oh so many speculations and legends flourished! [see Lanciani at the foot of the page]
From both Josephus and the panel we guess it was brought to Rome, then possibly kept in the Temple of Peace until the Vandals stole it in 455 AD.
One legend is told by Giggi Zanazzo (1860 -1911), our source on Roman culture written in the Roman dialect (full text):
“The candelabrum we see carved under the arch of Titus was all in gold and was brought by the ancient Romans to Rome from Jerusalem, when this city was sacked and burned by them. It is said some turmoil occurred and they came to blows when someone tried to steal it. Since they happened to pass over the Quattro Capi bridge [pons Fabricius – see below – the most ancient bridge surviving, built in 62 BC] it was thrown into the river so nobody had it and the water now is enjoying it.”
It was said that under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, but the Pope refused fearing that stirring up the mud would generate the plague [Lanciani.]
Did the Jews live so long with the Romans that some paganism brushed on them? Zanazzo writes that the Holy Mary was evoked in ways that remind me of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth:
“When the Jewish women are about to give birth, during the hardest labour pains, in order for their childbirth to be successful, they ask our Madonna for help. When all is finished quickly and well they get a broom and sweep the floor saying: “Fora, Maria de li Cristiani (out, Mary of the Christians).”
From the right to the left bank
Since they had arrived to Rome the Jews had mainly lived on the right bank of the Tiber, in the Transtiberine district, where the harbour was.
After Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics (from the 16th century on) and an epoch of religious fanaticism began, the Jews were forced to settle down on the left river side, in a district called rione S. Angelo [see above the area at the times of emperor Constantine; see below as it is today.]
On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a Bull that cancelled all the rights of the Jews and segregated them in a walled area, il Serraglio delli Hebrei, as it was called (i.e. the ghetto,) an unhealthy place subject to floods and too small for its inhabitants.
The ghetto: ‘Condemned for their fault’
Heavy gates were kept open only from sunrise till sunset.
The Bull Cum nimis absurdum took its name from its first words. It decreed that the Jews had to be separated from the rest ‘through their own fault’ [Latin, propria culpa]:
“Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault [e.g. having caused the death of Christ] were condemned by God to eternal slavery, have access to our society and even may live among us […] we ordain that for the rest of time […] all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”
The Bull encouraged the creation of walled ghettos in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
More than 3 centuries later part of the Roman ghetto was demolished after Italy’s unity in 1870. Among the disappeared places was via Rua, where the most prominent Jewish families lived.
Well, if this was a sort of main street, one has an idea of the poverty of the entire place! Look at this watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (ca 1880 .)
The Jewish obstinacy in keeping their own traditions increased the mistrust of the Christians. Constrained since centuries to be second rate traders, they were additionally impoverished by segregation, which added to the idea that God had punished them. All this favoured humiliation and violence.
“The men had to wear a yellow cloth (the “sciamanno”)- we read in the Wiki – and the women a yellow veil (the same colour worn by prostitutes). During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. […] Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons in front of the small church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, just outside the wall.”
We have to say that strictness in Rome was always tempered by the laxity and good-nature of its inhabitants. The yellow colour often became indistinguishable, some covert movements were possible, hate or mistrust were not seldom replaced by warm solidarity. Moreover the Roman people, popes included, needed the arts of the Jews – the astrology & medicine they had learned from the Arabs, and their trade skills.
There were never pogroms in the city, like elsewhere in Europe. And never the Jews from here were tempted by another diaspora.
In short, they were tolerated. So they remained in Rome.
Note. For an in-depth analysis of the Jews’ presence in ancient Rome see the 6th chapter from the splendid Rodolfo Lanciani’s New Tales Of Old Rome (1901) [full text].
Second and last part of Pedro’s story. As I said in the first part of this story I am impressed by Pedro’s personality, by his intelligence and extreme hardiness towards fatigue or any kind of climate. He has a lively and authoritative look. He’s pensive sometimes. Not the gloomy pensive, though. The optimistic pensive. He hums while he works.
Pedro directs a team of 10-15 workers, some of them appearing as impenetrable Inca masks to me.
There’s regret in him that the Peruvian ancient cultures were wiped out. “How could they treat the Inca civilization like that?” he laments. Even today – he says – there’s a lot of gold up there. The mountain peasants are poor but they’re surrounded by precious minerals.
“You dig the mountain and you see gold, you see copper. I have been working in the mines. Then foreigners arrived who took away everything. The people, who were poor before, are still poor today.”
His eyes lit up when he saw we speak English at home now and then. He’s therefore started to take English classes.
“We’d be a strong community in Italy had we harmony. There’s envy and jealousy instead towards those who have success.”
One interesting thing he told me about Chile. “After the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship the people have straightened up and now they respect the rules, while everybody in Peru is tricking everybody and there’s total anarchy. A folk sometimes needs some straightening up.”
This final observation – let me digress – reported by an ex 1968 student like me who saw Augusto Pinochet as the devil incarnate … Things must be seen from many view angles, and generally speaking democracy isn’t a plant that adapts itself to any terrain, I believe.
But I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe [see below the ethnicity thing.]
Are they Roman, Jew or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears.
I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …
An irony? Roman-ness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.
I’ll try to explain this roman-ness concept the way I see it.
A. Being Roman in antiquity meant an ethnic thing only in early Republican times. With the late Republic and the Empire “Rome” and its territories became a huge melting pot, more or less like America today (Pompey had Celtic blood and Cato the younger had a slave among his ancestors.)
Very strong cultural traits [one can check ‘Romanitas’ in any history manual] were transmitted to Berbers, Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Gauls, Spaniards, South and West Germans, Romanians etc. Even the class of the emperors was multi-ethnic, and polytheism made every creed and religion accepted. Focusing on Rome only, it was additionally populated by so many slaves coming from anywhere that it is foolish to think in terms of a Roman “race” surviving today.
B. Being Roman today. As for Romanness today, I clearly feel connections between an ancient Roman and a Roman of today.
The ancient Roman populace progressively lost its simplicity, temperance and character. Even the poor were proud of living in Rome (the Jews were among the poor) and had ‘panem et circenses’ without any merit.
Privileged and spoiled compared to other folks they became bit by bit crass, indolent, cynical, blasphemous, braggart, with a couldn’t-care-less attitude towards anything.
They nonetheless retained bits of magnanimity, of a sense of universalism, and a good nature and compassion that comes from the ancient Romans (yes, the Romans were compassionate and had a good nature).
Their vulgar Latin turned little by little into this loose modern dialect that is either loved unconditionally or hated in this country, and which can be terribly concise and abrupt. The true Roman – a species dying out – doesn’t speak that much, he is ironic, full of humour, and can knock you out with very few words, as the Calcagnis, my grandmother’s family, could do (and did).
We are all sons of the base empire a bit! But in our decadence there’s vitality and toughness – some old Romans look like lions and jump off the Tiber bridges even in their 70s.
The previous post on the Roman Jews had kicked off an interesting conversation with readers and especially with Lichanos on a theme central in this blog: Romanness past and present.
Huge topic, I know.
Lichanos’ energizing comments have though compelled me to clarify and integrate what I had in mind. I really thank ALL my readers for their contribution. Discussion helps to clarify and enrich lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (see my method post.)
My friend Mario has told me recently: “You are exploiting your commentatori”.
Roman-like, and using polite words in my translation, I told him he better shut his helluva mouth up.
So what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the era of the Flavian Emperors. Actually Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years!
I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe.
Are they Roman, Jewish or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears. I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …
An irony? Romanness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.
Touché! The stereotype inverted! I was thinking it was ironic because Jews are usually thought of as the “other – not us” group, so it seemed ironic that they would be the most Roman. Of course the Jews are the most Roman, stands to reason given their history there…
MoR Jews … usually thought of as the “other – not us” group
A bit being due to elements of the Jewish culture, people who see the Jews as aliens are either racist, stupid or narrow-minded (I’ll bypass the religious fanatics). Variety is what makes life interesting! Plus they are usually very intelligent, which is not bad these days.
My personal take on Romanness has been pruned from the above conversation for the sake of readability. See the upcoming post for it. The Roman Jews (2) writing will soon follow.
“Who’s more Roman than the Roman Jews? Some of us date back from the times of Emperor Titus [39-81 AD]” – Davide Limentani told me in the early 80s.
Limentani was (and perhaps still is) at the head of a big wholesale and retail glass and silver company in Rome. I had phoned him three days earlier for an interview that had to be published on the Roman daily La Repubblica.
I remember a lovely spring day in the old alleys of the Roman Ghetto, with swallows crying over a glorious blue sky. He was sitting at his desk in the aisle of an impressively ramified, catacomb-like store in via Portico d’Ottavia 47 (look at its stripped-down sign above,) crammed with an immense variety of crystal, pottery, silver, china, pewter, anything one can think of – his swift and bright eyes looking in every direction.
The firm had / has among its clients popes, cardinals, celebrities and governments, including the White House. Davide is descendant of Leone, who in 1820 started the most ancient wholesale glassware store in Rome which still bears his name: Leone Limentani – 1820 Roma.
“Leone er cocciaro” [coccio = fragment]: that’s how they called him” Davide said smiling. “He had in fact started with glass junk and had accumulated a big credit with the S. Paolo Glass-works, whose effigy was on every glass – the old Roman bibitari [sellers of drinks] remember it well. The S. Paolo Glass-works were having difficulties because of some faulty articles, and, since a 1514 papal edict allowed the Jews to trade only in commodities “of secondary importance” Leone exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!” so he bought out the second rate articles from the S. Paolo thus laying the foundation of his new activity.”
“The Roman Jews are almost 20,000” Davide continued “and only at the Portico of Octavia they live in a community. A love-hate relationship with the ghetto, they have” he confessed handing some pictures of his family to me. When the Piedmontese [who unified Italy 150 years ago] opened the Ghetto’s doors in 1870 many Jews left with the desire of forgetting all they had suffered here. But they soon came back because the rione Sant’Angelo represents all their roots. In the summer evenings the elderly sit in the open air and speak a vernacular almost dantesco, dantesque, in its character: ‘Guarda che vituperio!’ [ = ‘watch all this vituperation!’.]”
They Never Passed Under the Arch of Titus
Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Emperor of Rome. Traditionally the Roman Jews never passed under the arch of Titus. There’s a reason. This ‘delight of the human kind’, as the historian Suetonius called him, didn’t turn such a delight to the Jews, who saw Jerusalem sacked and its temple destroyed by Titus’ armies in 70 AD. Domitian, Titus’ younger brother, built the arch to commemorate the victory and on one side panel of it [see the image above,] carved in Pentelic marble, we see the spoils of the temple during the triumphal procession in Rome.
From that war we know that a group of Jews ended their lives as gladiators in the circus at Caesarea, the Roman stronghold in Palestine. Others died in the Sardinian or Spanish mines. A large number though were brought to Rome.
Now it turns the Romans needed labour to build the Colosseum. So the stones of the most famous Roman monument were wetted by the sweat of many slaves among which were the Jews captured by Titus. This group had been though greeted by an already flourishing Jewish community – merchants, freedmen and slaves – who had come to Rome 130 years earlier together with Pompey the Great at the end of his wars in the East.
Today’s Roman Jews seem to be the descendants of these two Jewish settlements in Rome – and of others arriving I don’t know when and where from.
Therefore what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews arethe most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the Flavian era. Actually “Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years, longer than any other European city” (!) [Jewish Encyclopedia.]
Not the place here to discuss the reasons of the clash between the Romans and the Jews, which gave birth to many wars and ended up with the Jews leaving Palestine. As for the Roman Jews, we know that they had been treated benevolently by Julius Caesar who had also exonerated them from any tax during their sabbatical year. From Suetonius we know that at Caesar’s death the Jews in Rome flocked to his funeral with big lamentations, and it is even possible that some of them identified Caesar with the Messiah” (read livius.org on this, note 6.)
During the Middle Ages the life of the Roman Hebrews had its ups and downs but basically was not too bad. When though in 1517 Luther nailed the 95 theses that will split Western Christianity into Protestants and Catholics, a dark epoch of religious wars and fanaticism began.
On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV promulgated a Bull where all the rights of the Jewish community were cancelled and the Jewish Ghetto was walled and provided with gates.
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).
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-ofhumanity? 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.)
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.
The first-borns in my house were two females, Agnese [who will die very little, MoR] and later Elvira. It was said Agnese was a real beauty: blonde hair and black eyes. They dressed her very well as first-born and as soon as it was possible my father took her for walks in Gianicolo, Pincio or in other Roman gardens.
He was so proud of her and much enjoyed the enthusiastic comments from other people, nurses, nannies and mothers. He, who always went around poorly dressed, used to say:
“She is a beautiful child … I can well believe it! She is the daughter of a Russian prince!”
“And why is she calling you papà?”
“Oh, it’s a quirk, since I am the old butler of the house and she has deep affection for me.”
When I was born, the third child, my father was so jubilant at finally having a male that he danced and sang all by himself the music of a mazurka.
Elvira, the eldest, the senior, as for stature she resembles my father, more serious and respectful but with the same decision, quickness and swift – though less eccentric and festive – replies. She is a nun, in the truest and deepest sense, a nun close to the people. She is not at all scrupulous and in her speech pops in the frank, free and jaunty character of the authentic and traditional trasteverina.
Once in Rome in Trinità di Monti [see both pictures] she had been headmistress of the school of the poor. The news came to her that the vetturini in Trinità di Monti [Roman public-service coachmen, also called bottari or botticelle,MoR] used to harass the girls at school exit with words and gestures. Mindless of any seclusion prohibition Elvira put an end to the shame. Going out of the gate together with the schoolgirls, when these were far and gone, she vehemently addressed the bottari speaking in prefect trasteverino.
Big sensation among the men who were hearing not a nun but one speaking their own language and very much to the point. The shame ended and nobody ever dared to bother the girls any more.
In that same Trinità di Monti [see it above as seen from the Spanish Steps] and always as headmistress of that school Elvira did it again. One day while passing along via della Panetteria I by chance overheard a dialogue between mother and daughter, two popolane:
“Have you eaten your soup today?”
“And how come you have today and yesterday you have not?”
“Because mother Calcagni had it made good”
I became curious and asking my sister about it she was obliged to tell the fact. The fact was this. She was aware that since a few days none of the pupils had eaten the soup. She then wanted to taste it but had to spit it out: it was uneatable, it tasted like nothing but dirty water. She thus raced to the woman cook and posed the question:
“And you tell me, how did you make this soup?”
“Eh! I take a stockpot with very hot water, and there I add salt and then pieces of stale bread”
“And nothing else?”
“Why? One makes slop for dogs this way, not soup for people!”
“But they are poor, they must be content with it”
“Listen, you’ve got to make soup and not reason whether it is for the poor or for the rich. Add some herbs and some fat and you will see that the soup will be eaten by all the girls.”
The shame of the soup ended but Elvira’s rating, so to say, as a nun subordinate and respectful of appropriate manners considerably decreased.
[In a few days a new excerpt where Carlo and Elvira, little kids, are caught by Pope Leo XIII (who reigned from 1878 to 1903) while secretly watching him at the Vatican. Their father ‘s swift reply saves them from trouble]
Second excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.
My family was then very big: 6 beefy children who needed so many things to grow up – food, clothes, shoes, manners and education. But, if as far as birth, parentage and social condition, my father was certainly above the average, high above it, as for financial resources he was really deprived of everything except the bare – almost too bare – minimum necessary for life. Why? How? I don’t know well because they never told me, my father always tried to pass over the subject.
In ancient days the family had lands in Velletri, where in the proximity to that town a hill exists that bears yet the name of Colle Calcagni and a palace in Rome near piazza Nicosia, the respectable and beautiful block which is now the Cardelli palace. My grandfather, count Filippo Calcagni, engineer, had been Noble Guard of His Holiness [see a noble guard on the left.] One day he resigned from the Corps and undertook the free career becoming among the rest engineer of the SS Palaces. When Gregory XVI [Pope from 1831 to 1846, MoR] went on a trip about the provinces of his State, the Palace engineer was entrusted to inspect the roads that the Pope would have to cover.
On the long slope which from Serravalle del Chienti goes downward to Tolentino my grandfather had a deadly coach accident. The horse took to flight down the hill. Two were on the coach, one kept himself glued to the carriage, paralysed by fright; my grandfather instead trying to save himself jumped out to the ground, hit his head and remained senseless. He didn’t die immediately. A few days later, a week perhaps, he passed away in the arms of his wife, who had raced to his bedside, without regaining consciousness.
He is buried in the church of Serravalle; a big gravestone on the middle of the left-side wall calls to mind the sad event with emphatic style. My grandmother, countess Carlotta Negroni, was just 23-year-old at that time, and she had my 3 year-old dad only and was pregnant of my aunt Maria.
My father therefore did not receive any education from his father and lived between his mother, inconsolable widow, and his sister Maria whom he greatly adored, a well explainable idolatry. As for material means, none, or very little, received from the rich relation, very little indeed I believe, while certain and definite was the very miserable condition of the poor relation, uncomfortable and painful.
Naturally – it is well understandable – all care and moral and material help from the rich relation were provided to the benefit of the female, aunt Maria, very young and very beautiful, while the male, Nino, my father, had to do things himself.
And in fact he did: as soon as he was 19, not having completed his studies at the celebrated Collegio Romano – studies of grammar, rethoric, philosophy and humanities – he applied for joining the Noble Guard Corps of His Holiness. His application was accetped.
Some time ago a British magazine was joking on the possibility that Italian men might spend more money on cosmetics than British women.
In an earlier post we had supposed a connection between artistic beauty and narcissism in Italian and Latin cultures.
Now an interesting passage from Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897) on Italian outward refinement during the Renaissance.
“The outward appearance of men and women and the habits of daily life were more perfect, more beautiful, and more polished than among the other nations of Europe. The dwellings of the upper classes fall rather within the province of the history of art; but we may note how far the castle and the city mansion in Italy surpassed in comfort, order, and harmony the dwellings of the northern noble.
The style of dress varied so continually that it is impossible to make any complete comparison with the fashions of other countries, all the more because since the close of the fifteenth century imitations of the latter were frequent. The costumes of the time, as given us by the Italian painters, are the most convenient, and the most pleasing to the eye which were then to be found in Europe; but we cannot be sure if they represent the prevalent fashion, or if they are faithfully reproduced by the artist. It is nevertheless beyond a doubt that nowhere was so much importance attached to dress as in Italy.
The nation was, and is, vain; and even serious men among it looked on a handsome and becoming costume as an element in the perfection of the individual.
(…) We may note in particular the efforts of the women to alter their appearance by all the means which the toilette could afford. In no country of Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire was so much trouble taken to modify the face, the colour of the skin and the growth of the hair, as in Italy at this time.
(…) The use of perfumes went beyond all reasonable limits. They were applied to everything with which human beings came into contact. At festivals even the mules were treated with scents and ointments, and Pietro Aretino thanks Cosimo I for a perfumed roll of money.”
Note. Quote from Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, 1878. Available as Gutenberg text.