Man of Roma

Traduzione in italiano

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 (*).

ψ

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.)

ψ

If not profundity of knowledge, he might though have an advantage (still to be proved) over many foreign commentators even born in one of the  ex-provinces of the ancient Roman Empire.

The plus of being a witness from right here.

The advantage of being a Man of Roma.

 

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

Al mio fratello maggiore

Alba romana ad aprile. Click for credits and to enlarge

A man-to-man thing, after the previous post on how different women and men can be.

ψ

Roma, aprile 2004. Le 6 di una mattina fredda ma luminosa. Guardo i tetti di Roma. Sono seduto nella mia terrazza. E’ quasi l’alba e ho freddo.

Avevo risentito il mio amico la sera prima al telefono dopo tanti anni di silenzio. Scrivo velocemente a matita sul primo pezzaccio di carta che trovo parole che ho in testa, per paura di dimenticarle.

Parole buttate là, piene di emozione, forse anche un po’ selvagge.

Roba da anni 50s-60s, da epoca remota e superata?

Che volete che vi dica, era l’Italia del dopoguerra, giudicherete voi.

ψ

 

Al mio fratello maggiore

Amico mio, compagno
di scorribande felici
nella fase più piena della vita,
alle 6 di un mattino romano,
la fredda brezza che corre
sui tetti di una città pagana,
io te, compagno mio e fratello,
qui vengo a celebrare
come in un rito antico,
schizzando con la matita
rapide su un foglio
parole vive e non lavorate.

Mi hai insegnato a godere della vita
l’aspetto primordiale e forte;
io, con più timore,
cresciuto in un mondo femminile,
il lato virile mi hai insegnato,
quello con gli attributi,
che hai sempre avuto,
e hai,
non lo dimenticare!

E cazzo vivaddio gli attributi!
In un mondo spompato
pieno di gente vuota stanca fasulla,
sei sempre stato esempio,
caro fratello mio,
di forza e di coraggio,
molto più che mio padre;
tu, e i miei zii materni,
i carissimi e amati
fratelli di mia madre.

A mio padre,
che pure ha significato tanto,
devo altre cose,
ma tu sei stato molto per me,
un anno in più vuol dire,
quando si è giovanissimi:
aiuta a stabilire il primato
che sempre ti ho riconosciuto.

E qui, in questa piccola terrazza
della città di Roma,
di fronte ai templi antichi
della nostra cultura primigenia,
io qui ti onoro,
fratello mio maggiore;
io qui ti celebro,
quel primato ancora riconoscendo
che non fu solo d’età.

 

 

A questo punto vino rosso berrei
(ma è mattino presto…)
il vino rosso forte, toscano,
di quelle serate d’inverno
meravigliose
della nostra campagna.
In cui tu,
la carne arrostita sulle braci,
i piaceri dionisiaci consegnavi
della carne, del vino
e delle femmine prese per i capelli,
e dolcemente, fortemente,
teneramente amate.

 

 

La brezza ora è più calda.
Le parole cominciano a mancare.

Spero soltanto,
amico caro, forte mio compagno
e fratello maggiore,
di averti comunicato
le mie emozioni al brusco risveglio
dopo una telefonata.

ψ

Nota. L’avevo sentito la sera prima al telefono. Non ci eravamo rivisti da anni.

Per questo mi sono svegliato di soprassalto alle 5:30, con la testa piena di quella gioia, e che gioia (gli anni dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza li conoscete tutti): noi li passammo insieme ogni singola estate nella campagna aretina degli anni 50s-60s.

Emozioni, anche dolori.

Ma tutto vissuto con esuberanza ed intensità quasi violente.

Arezzo e la campagna attorno dove crescemmo insieme. C'è un terzo amico, perché eravamo come i moschettieri. Ne parlerò. Scattato con il mio piccolo Nokia E63. Click to zoom in

Aveva la casa di fronte alla mia ma quando ci vedemmo oltre i muri la prima volta  (io solo, lui con la nonna, una cara signora d’altri tempi, avevamo 3-4 anni) non ci piacemmo affatto. Lui mi sembrava perfettino, troppo ben pettinato.

Poi un giorno sua madre lo portò da noi ufficialmente (le due mamme erano molto amiche). Contrariati cominciammo a tirare i sassi a un barattolo messo su un tavolo di pietra, così, tanto per vincere la scontrosità. Aveva un anno più di me.

Il gioco del tiro al barattolo fece scattare tutto. Da allora non ci siamo più lasciati, anche se con intervalli. I nostri cervelli sapevano volare insieme, e ridevamo, ridevamo, ridevamo a crepapelle. Aveva una mente bizzarra, umoristica, piena di idee.

Qui sotto ho 18 anni. Dì li in poi ci fu il primo intervallo. Lungo.

MoR in 1966. I'm not THAT vain to put only myself here. "My photo is arriving" he said yesterday. Well, we will see. Our frienship was about to go on a hiatus. Pauline O'Connor had just arrived. Magister will also, but in 1972

Adesso che siamo vecchi o quasi ci sentiamo ancora più vicini e non ci saranno intervalli.

Credo che sia la voglia di finire l’avventura meravigliosa cominciata insieme, anche con tutte le altre persone care accanto a lui e accanto a me, che ci rendono la vita più umana (e ci consolano delle sue miserie).

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

Catholic vs Protestant Cultures. Is Pardon the Right Thing? Yes, it is

Waldensian valleys in Piedmont, Italy. Click for credits and larger picture

Religion and culture

There are people raised in a Catholic or Protestant milieu who say: “I am an atheist, I am an agnostic, religion has no effect on me.”

I think it to be incorrect mostly. Religion is only a part of a culture but it is usually at the centre of it and it affects so many behaviours that it is difficult to escape its influence – no matter our religion or non religion -, unless we have the great power of the entirely detached sage, which is seldom the case.

Take my father. He was an atheist to the extent he died without any repentance. His family had been Waldensian (or Vaudois,) an evangelical movement close to Genevan Protestantism. Such a decent man, my father, though strict in a way hard to be found in Italy outside certain Western Alpine valleys (see map above.)

But most of all, my father could not forgive.

When I became a moderate, non violent communist – only 2 years it lasted, I was so young! – a portion of my father’s heart totally ruled me out. Those were ‘the years of lead‘ in this country. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I had to face the consequences of my act. My brother-in-law possibly. He knew all the military big shots. So when my military service days arrived I was sent to a sort of re-education military camp where they tried to break me, and almost succeeded.

For this and other reasons – such as a sunny good-natured Roman Catholic mother to whom redemption was always possible – I always had problems to accept any irrevocable condemnation.

The death penalty, for example, I consider it an unjustifiable act of barbarism, although, what a cruel irony, I’m a ruthless bastard in some corners of my soul because of this extra layer of Roman rogueness my father would have found less repugnant had he understood it was just a camouflage for something closer to him, ie related to the severe – and mostly but alas not totally extraneous to me – mountain culture he came from.

Large pitch-black eyes in the sun light

Italian grapes. Click for credits and a larger picture

I don’t want to think about this. My ancestral heritage is only partly from the austere West Alps. I want to think of where I’ve always lived.

Such a sea, such a sun – my Greek mentor now helping me to day dream – with young women vintaging in the fields, vine leaves at their temples, “their faces tightly wrapped in white wimples to keep them from being burned by the sun. They raise their heads when a person passes, and you glimpse nothing but two large pitch-black eyes flickering in the sunlight and filled with visions of men.”[Kazantzakis]

I’m bathed in the Roman country light. My life has been rich though hard and a bit tormented (which added some depth in my not so humble opinion.)

I take the responsibility for all my sins, for the good and for the evil, like every one should. Let me quote Dante albeit his verses are a bit disproportionate here (“horrible my iniquities had been” …).

Orribil furon li peccati miei;
ma la bontà infinita ha sì gran braccia,
che prende ciò che si rivolge a lei.

Horrible my iniquities had been,
But Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms
That it receives whatever turns to it.

[Dante’s Manfred von Hohenstaufen, the king of Sicily son of Frederick II, Commedia II, 3,121-123; Longfellow’s translation.]

By the way, what the hell happened to the Protestants? It seems to me they focused more on those early parts of the Old Testament when the Jews were not much civilized yet and worshipped a merciless, unforgiving God.

For, if ye forgive not…

I was yesterday reading Matthew (6,14-15) in the most beautiful language ever to me.

14 Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε (for if you forgive) τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (men) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) αὐτῶν (of theirs,) ἀφήσει (will forgive) καὶ ὑμῖν (also to you) ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν (the father of yours) ὁ οὐράνιος (heavenly)·

15 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε (but if you forgive not) τοῖς ἀνθρώποις (men) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) αὐτῶν (of theirs), οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ (neither the father) ὑμῶν (of yours) ἀφήσει (will forgive) τὰ παραπτώματα (the sins) ὑμῶν (of yours.)

And, in the second most beautiful language to me:

Si enim dimiseritis hominibus peccata eorum, dimittet et vobis Pater vester caelestis; si autem non dimiseritis hominibus, nec Pater vester dimittet peccata vestra.

And, in the language of this blog, also extremely beautiful:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

PS. Bragging about language knowledge, I know. Need to be pardoned for that 😦

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.

From Friendship to Asking Mamma when Looking for “Mr Right”

Best friends. Click for credits and larger image

According to Country Philosopher friendship (no 4 in his list) is an important factor in the pursuit of happiness.

“True friendship is the most solid, the highest, the most disinterested, passionate and honest feeling that can link two persons. It implies sympathy of feelings, conviction to have found a twin soul, it is the most durable way of loving and being loved, … it is a fundamental component of happiness and, according to Epicure, the most precious good.”

“On the other hand – Bernazza adds – we cannot call authentic friends mere acquaintances ruled by feelings which are occasional, superficial, opportunistic, basically selfish. In this type of relationships liabilities are greater than assets and the final result is sorrow, most of the time.”

(his judgement on acquaintances is a bit extreme since many acquaintances in my opinion don’t necessarily end up with sorrow)

How can we attain true friendship?

“It is a construction to be built little by little, day by day, with patience and perseverance, with affection and intelligence, considering it is an achievement among the most complex, long, delicate that heart and mind together can accomplish.”

Friendship impacts on 3 points of CP’s list. Which list? A list regarding 20 major existential issues which, according to Dario Bernazza, we should address in the best possible way in order to diminish life liabilities and live a happy life. Friendship in fact regards points 4 (friendship), 5 (marriage) and 6 (children).

True friendship –  Bernazza states – is the only factor that produces a good marriage or union between two partners.

True friendship is the only key to success in the relationship between parents and children, allowing mutual respect and the mutual fulfilment of rights and duties.

Bernazza’s idea of friendship is surely dated and it includes a wider range of affectionate relationships than the modern friendship concept does, being not far from Montaigne’s amitié, connected to the Latin amicitia and the Greek philìa.

On the other hand, romantic love to him is important only to a certain extent. Life to CP should be a careful construction.  So I wonder if he would be for arranged marriages. Well, yes and no, since to him each person must be the real planner of his/her life.

Reva Seth's book on arranged marriage wisdom

[By the way, the Western romantic approach to marriage is just one possibility: arranged marriages thrived for thousands of years and are today still common in many parts of the world. Discussions on this theme by Indians can be read at Nita’s blog: 1 and 2]

Ψ

Bernazza is an interesting example of cultural isolation. His thought is organic like the wine one finds directly at the farm, surely inferior to the big wines, but with a genuineness and that special patina which smells of the past.

But I’m asking myself: 1) is friendship really so important in the relationship with a partner and in parenting? 2) should living our entire life with a partner be the fruit of a thoughtful decision and a careful construction (when looking for “the one” why don’t we ask mamma, someone wrote) or should all be decided by attraction and romantic passion only?

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.

Eluana, or Man’s Ultimate Freedom. Ending One’s Life. 1

A pro Euthanasia demostration before Italy's parliament in Rome

The case of Eluana has again sparked a heated debate in Italy about the right to end one’s life. Eluana Englaro’s sufferings ended on Feb 9 2009. Her family had requested the omission of treatment since their daughter had been kept artificially alive for 17 years.

Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi first tried to ‘save’ Eluana with a decree rejected by our President Napolitano. Thence he desperately tried to pass a bill before Eluana’s death. He arrived late. Now he’s about to pass a bill that will impose ‘artificial life’ indefinitely, despite the prior will of the person (the so-called ‘living will’, pre formulated in the event of incapacity) or the desire of the person’s family. This bill will be voted tonight at the Senate and at the lower house in the next days, despite the hostility of the Italian High Court and of the President of the Italian Republic.

(I’m translating Italian labyrinthine politics: this bill was about the ‘living will’ but a last minute prearranged amendment de facto nullified this will. Classic)

I wonder how many people in Italy (or abroad) really believe that Berlusconi and many politicians of his coalition are so religious. Many think – me included – that this is the umpteenth occasion they found to strengthen their grip on power and on institutions, since Berlusconi plans to change the Constitution and the support of the Catholic church in this country is always a powerful political factor.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

The Church and strict Catholics applaud. ‘Life’ to them must be saved at any cost.  I respect this belief and I respect the Catholic Church, which is somewhat a remnant of what was Rome, and the Pontifex Maximus, or Pope, the last surviving magistrate of ancient Rome.

But, if I respect Catholic beliefs, are strict Catholics respecting the beliefs of others?

I mean, in a free democratic state, how can a religion or a government impose their will on an individual or his family in such private matters? How can they trample on what is, to few (or to many,) their ultimate freedom, death? In name of what? Of so to say absolute truths believed only by a part of the population?

(We’ll skip the historical fact that the first Christians condoned suicide)

What if one belongs to another religion? What if one has no religion? Shouldn’t people be free thinking (and given free choice) and isn’t personal freedom enshrined in the Italian constitution?  (art. 13, inviolability of individual freedom)

Isn’t this an expropriation of our civil rights?

This is the problem with some people: all they want is power. This is also the problem with decent people who believe in absolute truths: these truths escape doubt and inquiry and, seen as undeniable, are considered by them mandatory also for those who don’t believe in them.

Ψ

This I’m thinking while watching on TV all these politicians, some sincere and some not, cheering about the upcoming victory of ‘life’.

The Trumpet Sound, à la Française

An Insightful Blog From the Renaissance

Michel de Montaigne writes in his Essays, a real thoughtful blog from Renaissance (one could say):

“I can see that these writings of mine are no more than the ravings of a man who has never done more than taste the outer crust of knowledge (…) and who has retained only an ill-formed generic notion of it: a little about everything and nothing about anything, in the French style.”

He then provides us with some information on his background:

“(…) I do also know how the sciences in general claim to serve us in our lives. But what I have definitely not done is to delve deeply into them (…) I have fashioned no sustained intercourse with any solid book except Plutarch and Seneca (…). My game-bag is made of history, rather, or poetry, which I love, being particularly inclined towards it;”

And here follows a vivid depiction of poetry effectiveness:

“For (as Cleanthes said) just as the voice of the trumpet rings out clearer and stronger for being forced through a narrow tube so too a saying leaps forth much more vigorously when compressed into the rhythms of poetry, striking me then with a livelier shock.”

(I am using the Penguin Classics edition, 2003, I:26, with its outstanding translation by M. A. Screech)

Good old Montaigne, writing openly and honestly about everything regarding life and man, from small trivia and anecdotes to truly deep meditations. His words are simple yet profound and personal. I love to browse randomly into his pages where one can read thousands of insightful passages, like the ones above that hit me yesterday.

Dear old Montaigne, a true magister for meditation (and consolation). A man of the street of the French Renaissance (well, I am exaggerating, he was cultured, well-off and retired to his castle lol). A French country intellectual in some way (he was not a Paris man) and his essays so damn close to a Renaissance blog which was continuously rewritten and constantly in progress. He in fact always gets back to his writings: why a blog, from the Renaissance or from today, should be thrown down instinctively? (I know many readers will not agree; I also am wavering between these two approaches).

He makes use 1) of French as the general medium and neutral language (French is sometimes a bit neutral, I’ll admit), 2) of the Guascon dialect for the most colourful passages, and finally 3) of Latin (mainly quotes) for the most noble themes.

Of course what also attracts us is his good choice of the ancient, classical Western philosophers, he being in fact such a gold mine of information about the Stoic, Skeptic and Epicurean thoughts, the ones we have some preference for (among the rest).

But he is not only that. Since he is a little about everything and nothing about anything: à la française.

On Health and Serenity of Soul

So-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze now at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. Self-made by Massimo Finizio.
A so-called Seneca. Ancient Roman bronze kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Click to enlarge and for credits

In Living to our Fullest Potential we wrote about Dario Bernazza‘s list of the 30 major issues we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to diminish life sufferings and live a fruitful life. After no. 1 in his list (Defining a purpose in life) we will here consider no. 2 and no. 3, namely:

2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul

Good health

According to Bernazza (I am summarizing freely) health is more precious than wealth or power. It is a prerequisite for a fruitful and happy life. “It is the condition without which the edifice of happiness cannot be built or, if it is already in place, its falling apart cannot be avoided”. Better to be an unknown man who is in good health, than being a successful man who is sick. Good health is a way of delaying old age and fighting back death.

We should abstain ourselves from intemperance and dissolute living, because the pleasure of wellbeing is by far greater than that of revels of any kind that will later make us sick and will endanger our health. Bernazza condones a few exceptions – as, it is my thought, our civilization always did: from Roman Saturnalia to modern Carnivals.

So here we can quote, since Bernazza doesn’t, the Roman poet Horace who teaches to “mingle a little folly with your wisdom: a little nonsense now and then is pleasant.”

Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem:
Dulce est desipere in loco.

(Horace: 4 Odes, xii. 28.)

(Don’t know who translated Horace’s verses into English. Now and then makes good rhythm and is fine to me as a concept, but a better translation of in loco should be “at a proper time”.)

As a conclusion, a minimum advice from Bernazza on how to keep our good health: a walk at a good pace of 2-3 km every day in a park or green area.

Serenity of soul

Attaining serenity of soul is an effective weapon against life liabilities, namely all the sufferings that life inflicts upon us without mercy. But how can we attain it?

We first have to better understand life sufferings.

Physical sufferings can be diminished by taking care of our health, as we said before – argues Country Philosopher (this is how we like to call Dario Bernazza.)
As for psychical sufferings, some originate from the consequences of our bad choices, others from events we do not have control over, like the death of someone we love or people’s wicked actions.

As regards both types of suffering, to learn how to control nervous over excitability can be of great benefit, argues CP, and especially over excitability negative side, which is anger (the positive side of overexcitability being joy.) The less we get angry – and generally overemotional, in a negative sense -, the less we suffer. The more we get angry – and overemotional -, the more we suffer.

Well, is it possible to always avoid anger and nervous overexcitement?

Only the strictest stoics and the strictest oriental religious gurus deem it possible – argues CP. But that would mean to have the psyche of a corpse, which is not possible, unless we really are a corpse. What we can do is limiting our nervous overexcitement to such an extent that real negative overexcitement is not possible any more. “This means reaching a status of psychic calmness more or less unalterable, thence a substantial serenity of soul.”

It is an immense, invaluable benefit, it is clear – argues CP – because in this way we can highly diminish psychic sufferings which are the sufferings that mostly plague our life.

But how can we possibly attain this?

Exercise creates a habit

“Socrates – argues Bernazza – teaches us how: through exercise, since exercise creates a habit, any habit. And how long must this exercise last? Until the day we really get into the habit of not getting angry and overemotional any more. It is a long exercise and not an easy one and it cannot but last a few years.”

But, even if we fail and get now and then overemotional let us remember to never give up, this being highly important, since perseverance will certainly allow us to attain our positive result – there is no doubt about it, there is really no doubt (I told you CP keeps repeating this phrase.)

Note. As regards anger, Bernazza follows the tradition of the Greek and Roman philosophers who generally were in favour of self control and were hostile to anger. To Seneca and Galen uncontrolled anger was similar to madness. Anger to Seneca was useless, even in war. He praised the disciplined Roman armies who were capable of beating the Germans who were instead famous for their fury.

Ψ

PS
Following is a list of our writings on Dario Bernazza:

Country Philosopher
Ethical Confusion & Ancient Teachings
Assets and Liabilities in Life
Living to Our Fullest Potential
Health and Serenity of Soul
From Friendship to Asking Mamma when Looking for “Mr Right

And here a post on anger (a bit on the ‘wild soliloquy’ side, I’ll admit):
Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind

Love Words from Egypt

Cairo. From Ansa. Fair use

The Cairo trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz is dominated by the robust personality of Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad, wealthy merchant, almighty husband and father, pious, stern and inflexible with his family by day, sensual and witty with his male friends and Cairo’s ladies of pleasure by night (Nicole Chardaire). He is the Egyptian patriarch par excellence whom “both men and women throughout the Arab world view … with melancholic nostalgia and admiration” (Sabry Hafez). Among other characters are his wife Amina, submitted to her husband though strong and the real emotional centre of the family, and the young son Kamal, who, unlike his brother Yasine, pleasure-seeking and superficial, is all absorbed in his ideals of poetry and wisdom.

Kamal falls in love with an inaccessible and beautiful young woman, Aïda, who lives in a splendid mansion – thence the name of the second novel of the Trilogy, Palace of Desire – and has spent some time of her life in Paris. The events are set in the first decades of the last century.

While Aïda is away, Kamal is sighing in her absence and remembering. Here are some of his love words (the French translation being in my view better, I add some of it for those who can read this language):

Egyptian jewel

“Ta peau d’ange n’est pas faite pour la chaleur brûlante du Caire. (…) Your angelic complexion was not made to roast in the heat of Cairo (…) Let the sand enjoy the tread of your feet. Let the water and air rejoice in seeing you.”

“Le Caire est vide sans toi. Y coulent tristesse et solitude (…) Without you, Cairo’s is a wasteland exuding melancholy desolation (…) no place in Cairo offers me any solace, distraction or entertainment (…) so long as I remain under your wing, I feel fresh and safe, even if my hope is groundless. Of what use to a person eagerly searching the dark sky is his knowledge that the full moon is shining on earth somewhere else? None … Yet I desire life to its most profound and intoxicating degree, even if that hurts (…)”

“Today, tomorrow, or after a lifetime (…) my imagination will never lose sight of your dark black eyes, your eyebrows which join in the middle, your elegant straight nose, your face like a bronze moon, your long neck, and your slender figure. Your enchantment defies description but it is as intoxicating as the fragrance of a bouquet of jasmine blossoms. I will hold onto this image as long as I live. (…)”

“Don’t claim to have fathomed the essence of life unless you are in love. Hearing, seeing, tasting, and being serious, playful, affectionate, or victorious are trivial pleasures to a person whose heart is filled with love.”

“Ton cœur ne sait plus où jeter l’ancre, il va à la dérive, cherchant sa guérison à travers toutes les médecines de l’âme qu’il trouve tantôt dans la nature tantôt dans la science, dans l’art et … le plus souvent … dans l’adoration de Dieu …”

“Your heart [Kamal’s] could find no repose. It proceeded to search for relief from various spiritual opiates, finding them at different times in nature, science, and art, but most frequently in [religious] worship.”

“Seigneur Dieu, je ne suis plus moi-même (…) Mon cœur se cogne aux murs de sa prison. Les secrets de la magie dévoilent leur mystère. La raison vacille jusqu’à toucher la folie.”

“Oh Lord, I was no longer the same person. My heart collided with the walls of my chest as the secrets of the enchantment revealed themselves. My intellect raced so fast it courted insanity. The pleasure was so intense that it verged on pain. The strings of existence and of my soul vibrated with a hidden melody. My blood screamed out for help without knowing where assistance could be found.”

“Husayin, Isma’il, Hasan and I were busy discussing various issues – Kamal recalls – when there came to our ears a melodious voice saluting us. I turned around, totally astounded. Who could be approaching? How could a girl intrude on a gathering of young men to whom she was not related? But I quickly abandoned my questions and decided to set aside traditional mores. I found myself with a creature who could not possibly have originated on this earth. (…) At last you asked yourself whether there might not be special rules of etiquette for mansions. Perhaps it was a breath of perfumed air originating in Paris, where the beloved creature had grown up.”

Kamal keeps on remembering his first encounter with Aïda: “The charming look of her black eyes added to her fascinating beauty by revealing an agreeable candour – a daring that arose from self-confidence, not from licentiousness or wantonness – as well as an alarming arrogance, which seemed to attract and repel you at the same time.”

References. Naguib Mahfouz, Palace of desire, English translation by William Maynard Hutchins, Lorne M. Kenny and Olive E. Kenny, 1991, by the American University in Cairo Press, Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf.
Naguib Mahfouz, Le Palais du désir, French translation by Philippe Vigreux, Jean-Claude Lattès, 1987, Livres de Poche.

Note on translation. As far as translation of novels and poetry, we usually prefer a beautiful and unfaithful translation to an ugly and faithful one, meaning by ‘unfaithfulness’ only “aesthetic respect of the new language we are translating into” (and possibly not distortion of the original meaning). One might guess that we consider the French version belonging to the former. Yes, we do, although its type of ‘unfaithfulness’ is hypothetical since Arabic is unknown to us.

Assets and Liabilities in Life

Priverno, in Latium countryside, province of Latina, where Bernazza was born. Fair use
Priverno, in the Latium countryside near Latina. It is the country place where Dario Bernazza was born. Fair use

We talked about Country Philosopher before (in two earlier posts at least, 1 and 2). We said how he is free from doubt and how his argumentations, often categorical and at times naïve, are however not deprived of interest and of this ancient fascination so hard to explain.

In the following passage, freely summarized and which will hopefully better clarify this point to our readers, Dario Bernazza – his real name – tells us how there is like a balance in our life.

When liabilities exceed the assets, our life is a failure. When the contrary occurs, our life is successful and happy. Simple. Categorical. This is Bernazza.

Let us try to understand.

[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, pp. 12-22]

Life Liabilities

Life is such that we cannot avoid its offensive – bitterness and sufferings of all kinds. These are life’s liabilities.

Which are these liabilities?

Since our childhood we are exposed to numerous internal and external enemies.

“Among the internal enemies: ignorance, dishonesty, little respect for truth, selfishness, conceit, inclination to excess, worship of money, lechery, anger, sloth, unproductive envy, hate, lack of authentic affections, ennui, loneliness, excessive shyness, superficiality, lack of ambition, incorrect reasoning, intolerance, wrong pastimes, disregard for other people’s rights, wrong solutions, tendency to join the herd, undue submission, acquiescence towards the avoidable, pessimism, optimism … .”

External enemies: to be born in a foolish family, lack of (or wrong) education, inadequate school teaching, bad company, incapability or dishonesty of politicians ruling us, difficulties of any kind, job-related worries and fatigue, lack of money, unfavorable unexpected events, diseases, all flaws and errors by others, wrong clichés, perverse temptations, evildoers of any kind … .”

This is only a partial list of our dreadful, obstinate, sometimes alluring, enemies – argues Dario Bernazza. They are responsible for our sufferings, namely our life liabilities.

Life assets

In order to make our life advantageous it is necessary to oppose some adequate assets to those liabilities. It is obvious, says Bernazza.

But which can these assets be?

“They consists, naturally, in the sum of every pleasant moment, of every satisfaction and success that we are capable of attaining during our whole existence. If such sum is greater than that determined by our life offenses, or liabilities, it is ok. If it is instead lower, then it would be preferable not to have come into this world.

We must in fact be brave enough to honour truth – says Bernazza. Who can in fact say it is preferable to start a firm whose liabilities exceed the assets, instead of not starting it altogether? Only a fool can say that.”

 

Another image of Priverno. Fair use

[From which we infer that Bernazza is a non believer]

We must also consider – CP argues – that while these liabilities are spontaneously inflicted on us by life without any mercy, the assets are not given us as a gift, but we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.

And the only way to earn them is that of giving the best solution to the major problems of our life. If we can do this, we divert or soften life liabilities, or sometimes we can even eliminate some of them.

Bernazza then identifies 20 major problems we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to minimize life liabilities and live a fruitful life (or advantageous, as he says).

We will talk about that in a future post.

 

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

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

New Year? Pasta and Home-made Coffee

The smallest Bialetti for just one cup of good Italian coffee

Poonam told me in her blog that New Year resolutions must be public since this can help us to track our progress and dedication on completing them. Well, I’ll try to follow her advice and since I am now living alone with absolutely no cooking skills, no house skills and no practical mind altogether, here are my simple (and pathetic) resolutions for 2008:
1) I want to learn how to cook well enough instead of often going to a pizzeria or small restaurant nearby. First of all, being Italian, I need to be able to make good pasta and a very good home-made coffee. It is a national necessity. It is true that I am a zero cook but my taste for food being refined enough I badly need to learn how to produce at least decent basic meals. Good thing both my Neapolitan friends (Rome’s Greek cousins I call them) & my neighbours from Northern Italy are helping me a bit.
2) I will write down all the money I spend each day on a little copy-book or my finances will go havoc.
3) I will work on my physical fitness (bicycle, swimming and walking). There is a wonderful fitness centre not far from my home but at the moment my money is little.
4) I will clean the house and wash all my clothes myself without asking for external help.

I will only record here my dawning cooking skills, since the other resolutions are self-explanatory in some way. In future posts, if I can, I will tell you more about my progress (granted there will be any) so you can judge yourself. This is then what I have learned so far.

Tomato sauce for basic pasta. In order to make good Italian pasta one needs to prepare a decent tomato sauce to add to pasta once it is boiled (spaghetti, rigatoni, fettuccine, fusilli, farfalle etc. Here you can find a list of the most common varieties of pasta). Now my simple recipe for an Italian tomato sauce. I preheat olive oil in a non-stick pan and add chopped celery, onions and carrots (I think it is called battuto). Once these basic ingredients have become pale golden – one should be careful not to brown them – the result is called soffritto, since it is stuff lightly fried in oil (friggere = to fry). One can buy frozen chopped celery, onions and carrots (I did a lot) but the taste of the resulting soffritto is not the same. While these ingredients are getting golden one can flavour soffritto by adding pancetta, a lightly-seasoned Italian bacon, or peperoncino (chilli) or red wine, herbs (like basil etc.) or vegetables like mushrooms. Once soffritto is ready (golden) put passata of tomatoes into the pan (passata I learned is pre-cooked concentrated tomatoes one can find everywhere, see figure below), cook everything for 20-30 minutes and our Italian tomato sauce is done! The advantage of passata is that a lot of work is already done (no need of peeling good San Marzano tomatoes, cut them in pieces etc. etc. till you get your own passata).

Bottles of Passata, an important ingredient for tomato sauce. Fair use

Home-made coffee. While in America the most common way of brewing coffee is dripping (a technological miracle since it allows to brew a totally tasteless coffee, I really am surprised how they made it lol), in Italy we usually use a moka-style machine. Bialetti is the classical machine almost everybody has and I highly recommend it. Well, people from Naples used to make home coffee with their own Neapolitan pots (caffettiera napoletana) which are different from the Moka pots. These pots can produce even better coffee but now they are difficult to find in shops, although one day I really want to find one and try. So here is some info gathered from my family, my experience and my Neapolitan friends. Moka Express technology first though (image and quote taken from Wiki Books):

Moka Express Coffee Pot Techology. GNU Free Documentation License

“Water is placed in the lower section (A) and the raw coffee grounds in the mid-section (B) with the spout reaching below the water level. After the top section, initially empty, is affixed, the pot is placed on a heat source. As the water reaches boiling point it turns to steam and eventually creates sufficient pressure to force all the water from the lower section up the tube at once, through the grounds — which are held in place by a metal filter above and below — and through a second tube until it hits the lid of the pot and is collected in the upper section (C), producing a strong, concentrated coffee. Gaskets and safety valves to ensure a tightly closed unit allow for pressure to safely build up in the lower section and provide a necessary security release if this pressure gets too high.”

Here are my little secrets. 1) You can buy coffee already ground. I prefer Lavazza oro and Illy packages. The latter is much more expensive though. 2) Amount of water in the (A) section: my mother preferred a tiny bit of water showing in the (B) section grid before adding coffee powder. My Neapolitan friends though prefer water only up to the safety valve inside section (A), which means much less water. I must say they are right since this way coffee is more concentrated thence has more gusto. 3) Coffee grounds must be pressed a bit so boiling water finds its way with more difficulty thus providing you with a stronger aroma. 4) Cup(s) must be put into boiling water before receiving the precious black liquid. This is absolutely mandatory for Neapolitans, who would never drink coffee on a cold cup. Romans are less picky. Again I think Naples is right since coffee is good when sipped really hot. One more thing. The one-cup Moka machine produces the best single-cup coffee you can ever make at home (see the picture at the head of the post page: in my home I put this little wonder on top of two Latin Corpus Iuris Civilis books lol). Larger Mokas are for 3, 5, 6 etc. etc. but the quality of coffee is not as good. 4) My students in the suburbs of Rome taught me this dirty trick called il caffè bomba, the bomb coffee. Add a few spoons of coffee to water in section (A) and the resulting coffee will be a bomb, no kidding. Be very careful though. Coffee is a drug and can be dangerous for the faint of heart.

Is it ok Poonam? Are my New Year personal resolutions good? 🙂

Italian version

Sex and the City (of Rome). 3

Borghese Hermaphroditus, Louvre. Fair use

Italian version

So far we have wandered about Roman sexuality trying to understand 1) how remote it is from contemporary sexuality and 2) why everything has radically changed in the West since those times.

The first question seems clear. The Romans were very different and fancifully enjoyed pleasures and sex even though they tried not to be dominated by them (see our earlier post on ancient teachings.)

How different they were finds further evidence in statues like the famous Borghese Hermaphroditus shown above and kept at the Louvre Museum in Paris, especially when we think that these statues were very common in the Greco-Roman world. A hermaphroditus is actually a transsexual.

Can you imagine today a VIP’s living room offering the view of a marble transsexual to guests? Well, apart from a few eccentric artistic milieus, I think even open-minded people would be a bit puzzled, wouldn’t they.

The second question is more difficult. I believe that the Christian religion bears some responsibility, although I acknowledge that sexual pleasure & love are tremendous forces to the extent that they can be a social problem to be handled no matter the culture or epoch we live in.

As the Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater put it, we like sex too much, it therefore being potentially dangerous and unproductive, with every society trying to regulate it in a way or another.

Puritanism in its broad meaning, however, (eg loving only what is not pleasurable,) is to be condemned in my view even if it can push us to extremely hard work (puritanism was seen, no need to remind it, as a factor of development in areas of the United States according to Max Weber’s theories – if my memory is not faltering.)

lupaottimigut1.jpg

As always it is a matter of right measure. The Romans achieved great things (like the Anglo-Saxons did) and worked hard to attain them but lived pleasantly and were (mostly) not puritanical (in the early Republic they were.)

Therefore it is not by chance the Latin folks originated from them (Italy, France, Portugal, Spain etc.) tend to savour life with taste, refinement and joy, this incidentally also being a reason why the Italian and the French ways of life are getting attractive and represent today a school (not the only one) of savoir vivre in the West.

Thing being Latin folks are more or less taught since they were babies to cultivate beauty and all it implies.

It is so simple,
as simple and beautiful
as a Greek temple.

Their ancestors in fact, our Ancient Romans, didn’t just eat (as many Anglo-Saxons do, though progress is evident): they invented a highly refined culinary art. Equally, they didn’t just reproduce themselves (as many Christian fanatics do): they invented forms of refined eroticism which allowed them to live a fuller life.

Is it wrong? Is it right?

Should beauty in all its forms be a main part of our life?

A full answer is more coomplicated than it seems, but I definitely think it is right.

Yes, I conclusively think it is right, my sweet readers. Oh I really don’t have many doubts about that.

ψ

Related posts:

Sex and the city (of Rome) 1
Sex and the city (of Rome) 2

Sex and the city (of Rome) 4
Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion.

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

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

Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind

Book cover “Mind Made”, Helm Publishing, Amy Lignor. Fair use

Do you have a problem?

Sometimes when people have a problem – any problem: love, career, friends, family, deep shyness, health etc. – they get depressed, they remain passive and do nothing. Other times people, trying also desperately to get out of their bad situation, find some strength and react, in a way or another.

Of course the result of this re-action can either solve their problem or, as a possible alternative, get to a problem that is worse, not to mention total failure or disaster (this not being the point though.)

Ok, I am making it simple but, from what I have just said, strength seems such an important ingredient in one’s life success – Country philosopher would say:”No doubt about it, really no doubt about it.” I think you’ll soon meet him, oh you’ll have to readers.

Back to the point now.

Strength of Mind, plus Action

Image from lifedynamix.com. Fair use

Strength is in fact crucial, I can tell you by experience. No matter your intelligence or big qualities, if you are not provided with enough strength of mind to face things with firmness, if you do not possess some sort of personal bravery, even powerful intellectual processing capabilities might not help much. Quite the contrary, they might be an extra handicap making you a flop.

Here’s one theoretical example.

Even a perfect intellect though spending its time thinking thinking thinking only (and not acting with bravery of mind) it’s almost sure to reach its exact opposite, namely total imperfection in life, which can have many names: frustration, implosion, deep sorrow, depression, overthrow, stalemate etc.

Failure, in short.

The world is full of gifted people that are total flops because they’re cowards and forceless, I know too well, many of my failures (apart from a few successes) being due to flaws where lack of courage was not seldom part of the bunch. And of course, one being a flop means being partially or totally impeded to fulfill one’s dreams as for family, career, love and so forth.

I would add (since we are all bloggers) that even writing & thinking too much can sort of devour itself and make the writer stop writing altogether. This for example happened to me with musical composition: too much loved, too much adored, thus devouring itself, hence failing (or flopping, if you prefer.)

Finding Courage Inside. Magister

Given strength is such a good quality how can one attain it in case we are deprived of it? Hard question. I can tell what Magister used to say, probably referring to an idea by the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci:

“Anyone of us can find all the force he needs, a tremendous force, if only he really tries, no matter his gender, nation, age, instruction, religion (or non religion), no Gods helping, no religion helping, only our human nature helping (or genes, if you prefer.)”

Of course I am making Magister’s words exuberant a bit since he lectured us with his crystal-clear ideas that imprinted on us vigorously, day by day.

“Sometimes one needs to really be cornered to discover this tremendous bravery we all can have – he kept saying.

“Sometimes one actually needs to feel in danger.”

Magister now sounded implacable, his voice rising.

“Yes! Only in real danger one is sometimes able to stand up with one’s balls firm, in order to face things, and FIGHT!”

Gosh, we were STUNNED. We couldn’t but keep staring at him, totally wide-eyed.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Book cover. Fair use

I will also add the sublime example of Victorian Kipling’s Rikki-tikki-tavi baby mongoose, fighting and winning even over the dreadful adult female King cobra. Yes, baby mangusta won because cornered (and out of love for the British humans she/he lived with, though mangustas’ behaviour I have no idea about.)

So let us make use of this potential inner courage we all have in order to face things and act. In other words, let us fight for a better life – personal or collective, it is the same.

Of course, dear readers, this post is also pretty personal since I am living a hard moment, so once more I’m trying to follow Magister’s example to find such inner force and make use of all the personal bravery I am capable of.

Destructive Solution: aggressive Anger

The thing is, being very stressed these days, I am starting to make mistakes.

1) Excess. One mistake is letting excess prevail a bit. No big deal, since once I’m all right I’ll take care of it and tame it (hopefully.)

2) Anger. The worst thing – and a possible by-product of Magister’s teaching on strength? – which I consider due only to age (or bad temper?). I mean, I feel such a great anger inside, together with this constantly re-lost & re-found energy at my disposal now, without a doubt.

Why the hell am I angered? For personal reasons I won’t say and because I see my country (and Europe) not reacting well to challenges. I see people here in Italy full of intelligence and of resources my generation didn’t even dream of (same old song at each generation, I know) looking unprepared, narrow-minded and provincial, not to mention Italians’ almost total ignorance of the whole world picture.

I see the UK and France fantasizing they still have great empires (or great world influence of their own), thus halting in a way or another the European political unification.

Oh this really drives me mad, especially the Brits’ behaviour, really so mad indeed – tending to condone the French out of sentimental weakness: I consider them at present the best fruit of Latin civilization.

Bulls on the streets of Pamplona, Spain. Click for credits and to enlarge

This anger thing reminds me of an old man, long white hair, bald, dirty clothes though full of tremendous dignity I met 25 years ago in Pamplona, Spain – see the picture above. He told us two words in Italian in a bar, so I asked him:

“How is government here in Spain?”
His facial expression changed and, looking at me with boiling rage, he roared:
“LATRONES! LATRONES!” (Thieves! Thieves!)

Oh was I startled, plus I got worried for the poor old fellow’s health.

2.1) Made my Indians angry. First totally moronic consequence of my destructive anger (plus lack of concentration): I’ve recently flooded my sweet Indian bloggers (Amith, Poonam, Ashish, Ishmeet etc.) with hard (not against them tho) and/or fussy comments which gave them the impression I wanted their blog space A-L-L for myself.

GOD DAMN! They might ban me from now on, being all connected to one-another, one whisper sufficing to be excluded by the only readers I have (or the core of them.)

It would though be right, it would though be RIGHT, this punishment, because of this verbal abuse of mine that has no excuses, really no excuses at all, going against what I call humanitas, which is basically sympathy & respect for others.

One Big (Tiny) Missile Against The Ex-Victorians

2.2) Stupid attack on Great Britain, i.e.second moronic mistake.

Some time ago I found a high-brow English blog on politics, Westminster Wisdom (subtitle: “mind trained by academia into almost fractal subtlety”).

(Fractal subtlety!)

It was highly ranked in Technorati plus this guy’s (or guys’) nick was Gracchi, which in Ancient-Roman history is the name of two brave brothers who decided to carry out a revolutionary state-land property reform (land to be given to small peasants) since the ancient Roman Res Publica was not so Publica after all, 200 clans (or gentes) basically having ALL the riches (and lands) for themselves. These two brothers were in fact butchered by landowners gorillas. Same old story almost everywhere in the ancient and non ancient world.

Wow, I said. I love this man. He loves the Romans & the common people like I do. Therefore I started reading his blog with a pleasure that diminished the more I was realising how his high-brow British English (which I probably envied) was hard to understand. My anger, while reading, kept surging surging.

Such fruitless sophistication (I thought,) I had to read sentences 3 times to figure out their content (was I just tired?)

You’ll say it’s because I am no mother-tongue. I’m not, and I toil for every sentence I write.

But let’s face it. I read the Economist, Financial Times etc. quite a lot. I used to read over and over the Canterbury Tales (modern English verse, tho,) Pope, Shakespeare, Byron & Milton, bits of Joyce etc. (and, American-English stuff, even more than British stuff, except for English poetry, of course, which I totally adore. I’ll add several historical & political British – and American – books.)

Additionally, my anger was surging surging also because this guy dared to call himself Gracchi.

This Briton I mean dared to use a Roman name that since more than 2000 years always meant: with the common people! For the common people! Caesar himself, though from the noblest breed, wrote works that even a baby could read and belonged to that Gracchian youth and all that democratic bunch which helped him to gain power.

In ten minutes I was like the man in Pamplona: all rage, my pent-up grudge against the Brits exploding – the only real Trojan horse of Europe (forget the French.)

Well, it didn’t explode, to say the truth. It imploded, probably making my life 2-3 years shorter.

I didn’t (and don’t) nonetheless care a f*** about my health, being a citizen of Rome with all his couldn’t-care-less attitude, non ce ne frega riccamente un cazzo a noi romani.

Although, I did care, and got so angry about this after-all-innocent-Brit-guy’s blog. Hence, rage being rage:

Vendetta is a dish
You have to eat so cold,
Oh yes, my fellow countryman,
so cold, cruel, perfidious.
Perfidious-Albion-like ah ah
perfidious-Albion-like ah ah ah ah
ah ah ah aaahhhh ….

Such a silly poem actually – I love my silly English poems – though this one (among the silliest) may somewhat describe my feelings while so perfidiously I was about to prepare my missile against the UK.

Once my comment was completed – and well equipped after two hours of toil – BANG! I shot my legions forwards, feeling like Maximus Decimus Meridius in the moments preceding the German Marcomanni’s annihilation (in the Gladiator’s initial movie battle, btw.)

Here’s my battle text:

“Your blog seems great to me, although a bit too sophisticated. Is this sophistication the essence of what you call academic? (I know this is not your thought). Trying not to be provocative I’m only disappointed.

I thought only the French and Italian Academias (or their respective literatures) suffered from this illusion that sophistication of style immediately translated into quality of content, or from this aristocratic (id est corporative) disease that makes intellectuals more concerned about other intellectuals than about talking to a public. The natural consequence of this undemocratic attitude being of course that the world does not read our works any more.

Britain was such a happy exception. You did so much not only for the ‘public understanding of science’ but also for the ‘public understanding of humanities (and politics)’.

Where is Europe going if even the shepherds are getting lost….?

A man of the street of Rome

[downgraded to middle-brow status
(though proud of it),
whose ancestors were noble citizens of Rome
since at least 10 centuries]

Saturday, October 20, 2007 3:49:00 PM

The arrow was cruel, no doubt, and painted with subtle venom, especially if you consider his nick, Gracchi, and the fact that only 40 years earlier sublime (and high-brow) Bertrand Russel, together with hundreds of other high-brow British intellectuals, had the rare quality of being understood even by porters (or street cleaners, if you prefer.)

This dirty shot to the Gracchi guy was in fact such a blow in my view that, thinking of it now while I’m writing, I am not so proud of it, I’m not so proud of it at all.

In any case my legions of words having been too quick for him – and too well organized, I’ll confess my silly pride – this poor, decent Briton thus finally replied:

“Thanks TD [TD?]
Manofroma cheers for the praise. I’m sorry about the sophistication- I do write some simpler articles- but basically I write this for fun, so though I’ll try and be more concise in the future I suspect the subjects won’t change! I do think that there is a point in there- and I think TD [??] has found it for example- anyway thanks for visiting and sorry your visit disappointed you in some ways.”

Saturday, October 20, 2007 4:12:00 PM

Nice reply, after all, and his blog highly cultivated and interesting indeed, of a higher quality than mine, no doubts about it.

But then, total victory of Roma over the UK? Oh no no no, of course not. Great Britain always backfires.They never give up, never, even during Alexandrian-style decadence.

After 1 day an anonymous comment in fact came out:

“No no no don’t listen to Manofroma’s incomprehensible post. There is absolutely nothing ‘too sophisticated’ about your writing – it is most lucid and precise. Stick exactly to what you are doing, it works beautifully! One of the few blogs out there that is consistently a joy to read.

Sunday, October 21, 2007 1:08:00 AM

Probably true, although, what if HE HIMSELF had written the anonymous comment? There must be reasons why they are called Perfidious-Albion. Well, in truth, difficult to say whether the Romans were instead more honest, in their total brutality that spared nobody if they deemed it necessary. So hard to say. In any case, as for Gracchi, I’ll never know if it was him to backfire or someone else.

Truth painted with Sorrow. Ghosts

The thing is, what the hell do I care, my dear readers. I was an aggressive bastard, whatever the result of this microscopic war between Roma and the UK – who probably didn’t even notice the battle, and Rome in any case couldn’t care less, ah ah ah.

Things, you know, are much more complicated. And they are not painted with venom, they are painted with sorrow …

Truth being I cannot but love Britain of course. I wouldn’t have toiled so much to learn its language; I wouldn’t have listened to Sir Edward Elgar‘s Victorian music so much, a bit too romantic to Roman ears, though providing that feel of imperial greatness I needed to write my most Roman posts, this introductory post, for example.

And the thing is I do not only love the Britons. I most of all love so much the people and the place I am departing from.

Is it guilt that is making me aggressive, my departure though being not deprived of reasons and fairness?

And, out of guilt, is it a ‘hating-myself <–> hating-my-beloved-ones’ type of thing? Or is it just fear?

ψ

“Ok man, this is personal stuff – one might say. Let’s get more practical. We just learned you are leaving: where the hell are you going?”

Well, I’m going somewhere to the south – only 30 minutes by train will take me back to my beloved city.

I’m going where I can watch our Mediterranean sunset reflecting on the salty sea water, every day that is left to me, every single day, away from all the smog, away from the big city chaotic pace, although, unfortunately, also away from all that I love unconditionally.

Mind made (nightmares). Fair use

And one danger is approaching, ruthless. Ghosts from my mind are about to attack. I can feel them.

They’re approaching and even if it was foreseen that doesn’t mean I am not scared, being totally alone, nobody waiting for me, now and in the future, I believe.

This might be the final reason why I got so armoured, aggressive. Mind ghosts, theonly real ones in my view (see the post Ghosts from Asia,) will make my life a lot harder, for a length of time whose duration I cannot predict.

They are the ones to be really fought, not the Brits, certainly, whom how can I judge they being superior to Italians in many respects (not in all respects though, oohh really no doubt about it.) I will not judge them, though pls allow me to strongly disagree with their stubborn, anachronistic (plus self-destructive) Trojanism.

I really do hope that love, harmony and joy will soon circle back in the life of everyone, me being though a natural born loner, as it always was and as it always will probably be.

I might lose my battle with ghosts (and with fear). Even though in the end, in the very end:

When the unwanted Guest arrives …
I might be afraid
Or I might smile and say:
My day was good, let night fall.

(quote from Coelho’s The Zahir)

Ghosts in Asia

Ghost. Fair use

I know. It was time for Sex and the City of Rome part 2. I haven’t got time though because my method post has been too long to write. I cannot live inside a blog all day long. So I will postpone SEX SEX SEX though you weirdos pls don’t worry. Sex will arrive soon, no doubt about that. It will probably be serious sometimes a bit (I’m not here to write a porn site) but it surely will also be erotic. Don’t worry then you pervs, and stay tuned.. 😉

I was lucky enough to be saved in extremis by this e-mail exchange which happened not long ago. This Indonesian ex student of mine wrote me this peculiar letter. She is of Malaysian-Chinese descent. Here’s what she said:

“I just quarrelled with her again, because of her phone call. She calls me every day to check if I get back home on time. I got angry and we started to quarrel. I asked her: why do you always call me lately? She said she just missed me. But I told her it was an excuse, it was because of one of her bad dreams about ghosts. And I asked her: did you perceive there is a ghost alive at my home? My mother did not say anything…”

“Another time she firmly suggested me to stay at home after I had just informed her I wanted to take a 3-days holiday to have some break from job stress. She objected. I told her: do you want me to become crazy? Then I hang up the phone abruptly”.

“You know, they believe so much in ghosts in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. She thinks I am protected at home because of these Buddha’s little statues”.

I replied to her:

“Dear ***. I hope you do not believe in all this silly stuff. I have something to tell you. A guy from our Roman rione had a friend, his best friend – he told me. When they were very young they promised to each other to come visit which of the two was still alive if one of them died first. Anyway, it was like a game, but not so much after all, since they were both actually very determined, if anything like that happened. I mean, the one who’d die earlier would really try to visit his still-alive friend if he happened to die first.”

“Well, guess what. Hazard (or Fortune) decreed that actually this guy’s best friend had a terrible accident and died. So the poor fellow was totally scared to death because he KNEW that, if ghosts really existed, his best friend would definitely come visit him.

He could not sleep for MONTHS, you can well imagine.

But his friend never showed up.”

Italian version

Method and Encounter with Magister

Plato by Raphael. Public domain

Dialectics 1.
Dialogue Within One’s Mind

The method of this blog is finding free inspiration in the technique of dialectics (διαλεκτική ) possibly invented by Socrates and Plato something like 2,400 years ago.

[2014 update : much earlier, and not only in the West; see Indian dialetic]

As far as we know dialectics is primarily based on thought discussing with itself in an effort to reach constantly better conceptions, such inner dialogue being though not obvious here since what readers actually get is just a sequence of apparently unrelated writings.

The point is our posts are connected by mental links, and writings and ideas within them bounce on one another in quick or lazy succession, thus answering, contradicting, integrating one another and now and then considering previous-post themes from different angles or even entirely diverse views.

What’s more, in the context of one single post, questions and answers or different opinions can at times coexist, this conflict/dialogue being actually the core of ancient dialectics.

A further layer of complexity – as we havesaid before – is provided by the delectable game of free associations, which, pleasant or not, is part of our inborn cognitive style.

Risk of Bewitching Chaos

Thought in progress, we believe, is a better self-improvement tool than finished and sedentary conclusions. The risk here is chaos, or irrationality. We hope though to attain some consistency:

a. because of the nature of dialectics itself, tending from heterogeneity towards unity (see Dialectics 3);

b
.
because our ideas are not thrown down at random, links among them being stimulated by inner themes we have been meditating in the years and presumably of biographical origin;

c
.
because almost all our interests have come (though changing over time) from an sudden germination.

We are referring to a crucial encounter that took place in Rome, 35 years ago (see Dialectics 3).

Dialectics 2.
Dialogue Among Minds

Now, reason discussing with itself doesn’t exclude dialogue with others, since dialectic sees in fertile dialogue among thinking people the highest expression of cognitive exploration.

We have conversed with people of any cultural level, even a few top brains, their ideas interacting with ours in many ways. Plus we digest tons of debates in the media.

In any case, however we put it, we cannot have what Socrates or Plato had. Being not big shots of thought we cannot invite to dinner the great intellectuals of our time on a weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis. What an awful stress it would be (we are reserved,) although, let’s be frank, it’s not that they wouldn’t accept, it’s just they wouldn’t even notice we are inviting them.

[And how silly to even think of having what Socrates or Plato had. Today even top think-tank people cannot enjoy those sublime, holistic symposiums, for the simple reason that knowledge today is too massive and appallingly – though necessarily – specialized.]

Virtual Symposium

So, not being able to recreate a circle with big intellectuals, this virtual Symposiumis what is left to us. It involves a certain number of ‘virtual guests.’

A virtual guest is a quotation or just a reference to a book passage. This is exactly what we mean by a virtual guest. The ideas of an author, dead or alive, participate in the discussion thanks to the greatest invention of all time: Writing.

Read how this young (and uncouth) Roman helps me explain this “Virtual Symposium & Writing” concept. We locked horns a bit, like males sometimes do, but the fight was worthwhile. Yes, we think it was worthwhile.

Locking Horns. Fair use

Quotes and Text Authority

“What are you talking about – argues Arthur Schopenhauer – quoting is copying other people’s ideas”.

Well, it can be, but my quoting is different. First of all it is the feedback and interaction with a writer’s ideas, as I said. I don’t see any copying in confrontation of ideas towards a richer knowledge.

There’s another thing though, personal this time. Take Braudel: “Great civilisation never die”. Or Augias-Zola: “Was Rome ever Christian?”. These were things inside of me since a long time and lurking their way out, i.e. trying to be expressed in clear words. I mean, when I quote an author it is often because he/she can better express what I had already felt but not verbally formulated, hence not totally clarified yet. It is a verbalization of intuitions I ask others to help me bring out. When I’m reading, I’m often struck by something. It’s cannibalism, or autism – a friend once told me. Well, I don’t really know, readers, I am not kidding.

One thing I though know is I hate exegesis of texts, a plague in Italian and foreign universities. What they call research over here is nothing but this totally moronic self-referential game of he-said-she-said, research and exams regarding “only what another earlier authority thought” (quote from John Brockman.) I really do hate exegeses, and most of the time I invoke the authority of nobody. I can invoke the big heros of thought like Goethe, and honour them as virtual guests in my living room, as a guarantee of non superficiality at least.

Books can fly. Fair use

But my quotations can be derived from Dante, Plutarch, Dan Brown, Bugs Bunny or Homer (Simpson, lol). No matter their origin, they are interesting to me to the extent that they clarify lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (= not translated into logos = reason = words). This lumpy mind stuff, well, keeps bugging me and asking to pls be let out of its irrational status.

Ψ

Thus being said, it is high time we introduce this great Roman to you. Since from the day this crucial encounter took place our life changed completely, the present blog is dedicated to him.

It is dedicated to our beloved mentor, or Magister, writer, philosopher, outstanding educator.

Maybe some readers are expecting him, so here he comes. Welcome, Magister!

Dialectics 3. Magister.
The Manifold longing for Unity

My ideas started fermenting the day I encountered Magister 35 years ago. It was a rainy day. Rome is so smelly when it rains. I went to this place where he delivered lectures, close to the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. He was already very old, with long white hair and beard, eyes penetrating. Italy was all a huge debate in the roaring 1970s (I am listening to Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon album to relive the feel of those days.)

Roma. Tiber with rain. Courtesy of eternallycool.net

Magister talked softly most of the time, the silence of the audience being absolute, even embarrassing at times. When he though got angry his voice became like thunder almost, eyes flashing.

I will never forget him. I was an ugly duckling when I met him. Not that he made a swan out of me, lol, but he taught me much, basically by having me understand I had the means to be a free man by just making use of my mind and will.

I do not know if I was a good pupil.

I left family to find my fortune. Unfortunate are the young who never find magistri.

I won’t reveal his identity – not that he would mind, he being no more, his ashes scattered somewhere in this eternal city he loved so much. I adored him and I was not the only one to cry over his ashes. There are reasons for not revealing his identity.

What I can say is just repeating this: to him I really owe a lot. Last but not least this love for knowledge, this curiosity or craving, don’t know how to phrase it – this chilly charming language being so difficult for a non mother-tongue.

I mean, this cultural hedonism which tends to auto-organization and which in defiance of age is constantly growing instead of abandoning my soul (cultural = related to knowledge, as people in France, Spain, Italy mean it).

Plus, of course, I owe him this dialectic method.

Spontaneous philosophy

From that day this process of spontaneous philosophy started going through alternate phases though basically it never stopped (well, almost never.)

Not a big deal, after all. Magister was a disciplined intellectual while I was too whimsical, too eclectic. I (re)turned to music, failing in this economically. I hence turned to high-school teaching and freelance journalism, which proved one of the best things I ever did in my life (teaching), while journalism being somewhat superficial to my taste it basically turned to be good training for writing (plus it taught me that success, even a tiny bit, is a powerful drug.)

Ok, journalism despite a bit of glory produced zero money. And teaching, well, teachers in this country are among the worst paid, the Italian ruling class caring about keeping power mostly and being not much interested in instructing the common people  – who might understand how they are manipulated by all parties, left and right, and by the mass-media.

This is why I finally turned to computer engineering, which produced more money but also gave a bit of a blow to this spontaneous philosophical process. Or maybe not?

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

“Ok, this story about Magister is moving, your failures a bit less, being pathetic. Don’t you realise you are a digression maniac not sticking to the point and forgetting about dialectics and its tendency towards unity?”

Ψ

No, I didn’t forget my point. The encounter with Magister in fact (and the sudden germination it produced) might hopefully help me to fulfill this longing for some unity which after all is the ultimate goal of any dialectics.

In other words, dear dear Magister, this imprinting I owe you makes me hope this quirky research of mine could somehow be fulfilled.

Dialectics 4.
Life is a comedy, not a tragedy.
Dialogue with readers

We know too well our topics are too heavy for the common reader while too unsophisticated for the happy few. Unfortunately the interests of readers are flocking towards entertainment, actors, gossip. So how many hits will I have? Very little. Not that I care much – well, I do a bit, but not so much. I am doing this just for fun, as Linus Torvalds said in his book about Linux.

And it’s such great fun, believe me, this philosophical folly!

Although, do not take me too seriously, please. Life is a comedy, not a tragedy, it shouldn’t be zu schwer, too grave (well, it is better to see it this way. Watch Benigni’s La vita è bella. Life is beautiful, or at least it could always be if we make use of will and imagination.

The autumn of life is a phase one should 1) do lots of sports and 2) use one’s brain extensively to keep it fit. And here, it is my opinion and personal taste, humanities & holistic thought, rather than specialised thought, are much much better for rewiring one’s synapses.

Tomb of the Diver. Public Domain Wikimedia

Wait, I forgot the completion element of blog dialectics: readers’ comments!

Hits might be negligible, but a few readers are arriving. The intriguing Indians came first, so unpredictable (since the Far East is really far.) Then one ex student of mine from USA, a great and totally eccentric guy living in Rome and who left one comment on my very first post. One Chinese woman too. China! She talked about mysterious things like vowels in Mandarin and Cantonese. A sweet person rich in emotions, which contradicts what many Italians think of the Chinese people, aliens with marble faces. Finally one first Italian guy (!), Massimo from Viterbo. That area is north of Rome but still in Latium, where the Etruscans lived and met the Romans. Might be promising.

Ψ

In the end this blogging mixes up my ideas, authors’ ideas and readers’ ideas. [Plato’s dialectics? Yes, though revised a bit.]

Now be patient enough to listen to Man of Roma’s (delirious?) conclusion …

Roman Night Forum Skyline

Dinners on a Roman Terrace.
Let us have fun!

Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is delightful. I’m inviting you all from every country, era space, location. I am inviting you ALL to this imaginary Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city‘s glorious skyline.

Rome (loose woman and she-wolf) is watching attentive. Is she smiling?

Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and smells from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …

Right here, dear guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit!

Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe.

Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another needed guest, of course) and plenty of good wine and, no real objection to a pot of beer (or cervesia), once in a while.

Playing being simple, playing being easy. All it takes is good food, good music and treasured company most of all!

Ψ

PS

While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.

Italian version