E ora il matrimonio della figlia più piccola in Piazza Grande, Arezzo. Il neo marito è Thomas Savage (Isola di Man, UK). And now my youngest daughter’s marriage in Piazza Grande, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy. Her husband is Thomas Savage (Isle of Man, UK)
Elena e Tom sono ora felici. Tutto cominciò 5 anni fa, a Londra. Prima di allora conducevano due vite parallele che non s’incontravano (cito discorsi di Tom e dei suoi amici, perché i britannici fanno discorsi in queste e altre occasioni 😲 ).
Cresciuti in culture diverse, parlando due lingue diverse, avendo vissuto esperienze diverse (Tom a Parigi ed Elena a Barcellona e in Cina), si sono alla fine conosciuti al terzo piano d’uno studio di architettura a Londra, separati da una stampante.
Una divisione che è durata poiché Tom venne poi spostato in un altro piano anche se non c’è divisione che tenga, con l’amore. In Italia diremmo che un colpo di fulmine, un canale e una bottiglia di vino furono galeotti.
Ed eccoli adesso insieme, sposati e in luna di miele in Grecia, dove i genitori di Elena si sono conosciuti.
Da anni vivono in un appartamento non lontano da quel canale che li ha visti uniti per la prima volta.
Post Scriptum Come detto a Mary nel post precedente ora che il matrimonio della figlia “britannica” si è concluso posso / possiamo tornare alle nostre abitudini e, quanto a me, al blog. Stamattina, ormai qui a Roma, sfiniti, mia moglie ed io ci siamo guardati negli occhi e ci siamo detti:
“Ora le abbiamo sbolognate entrambe! [pausa interdetta] … pensa se avevamo 6 figli!! Ci avrebbero direttamente portati all’obitorio!!”
Ed Dorrell, giornalista britannico, scrisse poco prima del referendum sulla Brexit un articolo per l’Independent in cui spiegava i suoi motivi per votare contro il distacco dall’Unione Europea. Le sue riflessioni mi sembrano valide soprattutto oggi, in un momento in cui la Gran Bretagna si appresta ad affrontare il mondo con le sole sue forze (e qualcuno in Italia, Francia e altrove – i cosiddetti sovranisti – pensa di poter fare lo stesso).
“Ero, fino a poco tempo fa, un euroscettico. Perché la Gran Bretagna non poteva fiorire da sola come bastione di medio calibro della democrazia liberale e della crescita in un libero mercato?
Come versione non noiosa della Svizzera trapiantata sul nostro arcipelago nord-atlantico, forse. Il nostro soft power – musica, televisione, film, la letteratura, i giornali e i media – avrebbe esteso la nostra influenza in tutto il mondo. Saremmo sbocciati, liberi dai vincoli dell’Europa, delle sue economie stanche e con legislazioni del lavoro scricchiolanti.
Ma poi, due anni fa, sono andato in viaggio d’affari in Qatar, nel Medio Oriente.
In uno dei pochi bar di quella città-stato, alle due del mattino, mi sono guardato intorno e ho visto il futuro. Era come una cartolina del mondo globalizzato, a cui non fregava un bel niente della Gran Bretagna.
Se in quel bar notavo qua e là uno sparuto gruppo di espatriati europei, la maggior parte degli avventori proveniva dalle nuove potenze globali: cinesi, indiani, arabi e russi. Non ascoltavano musica britannica o statunitense, bensì ritmi africani e pop sudamericano.
Nel futuro globalizzato il ‘soft power’ della Gran Bretagna sarà come sparare ad una pantera con la cerbottana.
Queste nuove potenze non sono le democrazie liberali come le conosciamo. Nelle enormi distese del mondo gli ideali della nostra cultura liberale sono in ritirata. I concetti dello stato di diritto, della libertà di stampa, dei diritti umani e delle libertà civili sono in declino.
Basta guardare Turchia, Russia, Brasile, Sudafrica. Senza considerare il totale disprezzo cinese per la democrazia e per gran parte degli ideali che ci stanno a cuore. O, diciamolo pure, la politica di Donald Trump.
L’Unione Europea non è ideale, ma quale governo democratico lo è? Con le nuove realtà della globalizzazione dobbiamo stare nella giusta squadra. Dobbiamo tenerci stretti i partner con cui abbiamo più elementi in comune”.
“Thousands of people, mainly from Tunisia, but also from Libya and Egypt, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks” (BBC).
“Since January Italy is facing an exceptional flux of immigrants, with over 22,000 landings mainly from Tunisia… from Eritrea and Somalia via Libya on the island of Lampedusa.” (Le Monde)
The situation in Libya is more critical. According to Le Monde anti-Gaddafi rebels have no military experience, despite arms and support arriving from Egypt and Nato intervention. The port city of Misrata in north-western Libya (130 mi to the east of Tripoli, see image below) seems now to be the hub of the crisis.
Gaddafi is ready to conquer it and there are rumours of tortures suffered by the unfortunate who in Misrata fell into the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces. BBC mentions use of “human shields in the war-torn town.”
According to one of Gaddafi’s 5 beautiful Ukrainan nurses, El Rais’s health is that of an iron-man 🙄
France who first led to the intervention now fears that “we are likely to get bogged down in Misrata” (as French foreign Minister Alain Juppé’s put it). France also fears too many immigrants are coming from Italy. Italy protests France is against the Schengen agreement and says Europe should help to contain the human flood.
More British war planes seem ready to begin ground attacks (instead of just no-fly-zone checks.)
Gaddafi has sent a message to Obama yesterday. Today H. Clinton dismissed it saying he must resign and go into exile. Anti-Gaddafi rebels complain that bureaucracy is causing “Nato to take too long to respond to calls for air strikes” (BBC ) [not to mention the fact that Nato has killed quite a few anti-Gaddafi protesters by mistake!]
Berlusconi and Sarkozi will meet in Rome on April 26th. By the way Italy has finally recognised Libya’s rebel National Council.
Berlusconi was hesitant given his personal ties with Gaddafi. Now that all is more or less in the hands of Nato he looks happier.
Moscow, Berlin and Turkish Ankara seek a role as mediators. Ankara has sent Ambassador Omur Soledin to Libya.
These the recent facts. Allow me some (Roman) rambling now.
Lost in their Opiate Dream
Aren’t the French and the British lost in an opiate dream that they can still play a world role ‘of their own’? I am for a EU tighter unification, it is clear, and any prima donna or Trojan horse trying to dismantle such process from within really rails me.
The Britons are famous in their efforts to obstruct any real unification of ‘the continent’ – from Napoleon’s (was it good?) and Hitler’s (it was good) until today.
And the French? Are they pro EU only when they can play a grandeur role in it?
[Gosh, when at times they pronounce this word (France) I cannot but think of De Gaulle (my father imitated le Général not without fidelity and humour) who used to say he had ‘une certaine idée de la Fraaaance‘.]
Of course I can understand their opiate dream, their greatness belonging to only 4-6 generations ago, a short span of time. But aren’t their imperial souvenirs damaging this region, Europe, the richest of the planet (not for long) but the weakest politically? With the huge challenges ahead of us (ie Bric) is it intelligent? Is it forward-thinking?
[See a presumptuous post of mine on EU Trojan Horses]
Italy, the eternal loose woman, is reclining herself on the middle of the Mediterranean.
“L’Italie, avec la Sicile et la Tunisie coupent la Mediterranée en deux … Est et Ouest. La liaison Sicile Afrique est fondamentale”.
This centrality favoured the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean.
Carthage (today’s Tunis) had the same central position in the Med though reversed (from South northwards). Rome though won (but … read here)
Among the European nations Italy is perhaps the most popular in North Africa and the whole Med area (some grudge left in Libya, of course.)
We eat the same food, they sing our songs (and us theirs but we’re not aware of it,) they watch since the 1950s our now horrible TV, they get consoled and excited by our III-World South which they can understand.
Tunisia in the last 100 years always looked at Sicily (and Italy) as a beloved guiding light and its greatest inspiring model (“les Italiens pour nous sont comme des dieux”, “Italians are like gods to us”, a Tunisian manager once told me. You may like this post.
This role of Italy – its Mediterranean centrality over the millennia and our today’s persisting cultural and economical influence – is responsible in my view for a certain succession of events:
Berlusconi –> Ben Ali –> Mubarak …. then the rest of the Arab Spring.
A theory of mine perhaps. So let’s now test it.
Arab 2011 Revolution.
Are all MED BIG MEN resonating?
1) Berlusconi began to wobble …
… and while the entire world was cheerfully chatting about it (lots of fun stuff) the Tunisians were watching closely...
[Some mysterious harmony vibrating in the Mediterranean …]
They couldn’t but notice this North MED(iterranean) BIG MAN about to fall, and they know he being not terribly different from many other modern-day MED BIG MEN all over coastal Mediterranean.
[A darn tradition of ours. Let us mention: a majority of tyrants in Greek city states, Alexander and the Hellenistic monarchs; the Roman well balanced republic later superseded by Julius Caesar, Augustus & other emperors; Louis XIV le Roi Soleil; Napoleon; Napoleon III; Mussolini il duce; Hitler son of romanized Austria-Germany; Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria; Francisco Franco, the Caudillo; Salazar his neighbour; De Gaulle le général; Italian Umberto Bossi il celodurista (I got it hard!) and Silvio Berlusconi il Cavaliere]
Of course our PM is not Bel Ali, Gaddafi or Mubarak. Italy is democratic.
But Italy (unique in the West) has this patriarchal-paternal figure (Papi his girls called him) whose de facto powers go beyond democracy. Berlusconi can influence voters being the richest tycoon and media owner in our country –as if President Clinton and Murdoch were the same person!
Now our PM has though less constitutional power than Clinton and our usually sage President of Republic counts too in our charter. Magistrates are independent and tough, and people are not stupid. Which all is saving our ass from media fascism I hope.
So Berlusconi is something Tunisians could understand. Ben Ali controlled almost all Tunisian media via his family (I worked for a Tunisian Internet company owned by Ben Ali’s daughter or wife, I forgot.)
2) … so Tunisia blew up. Also plagued by unemployment etc. Tunisia rebels against Ben Ali’s well-organized fascism. I am witness to black-clad secret police guys’ total ubiquity. Mediterranean resonating empathy I’ll repeat.
A small country Tunisia, one might say. Ok, but Tunisia’s rebellion infected Egypt.
Now THIS changed things entirely.
The Land of Pharaohs Wakes Up
2) Egypt gets infected. The Arab world and beyond is following.
Well, given its ancientness & importance when Egypt sneezes a whole piece of the planet may catch pneumonia. Egypt is the most respected Arab state of all, beyond a doubt.
Digression. According to the Indian-British Indologist A. L. Basham – A Cultural History of India, Oxford 1975 p. XXI- “there are four main cradles of civilizations [on this planet]: 1.China. 2. The Indian subcontinent [probably the most influential in the very long run imo, MoR]. 3. The ‘Fertile Crescent‘ [ie Egypt, Eastern Canaan-Syria-Phoenicia, Mesopotamia ie Iraq, MoR]. 4. The Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy.”
[I’m starting – some scholars are starting – to suspect a North-Europe Hyperborean cradle too. Read here if you dare 🙂 …]
Egypt is at the head of num 3 region (even though Iraq invented writing.) The Greeks totally recognized Egyptian and other Eastern influences.
[But some scholars in-between 1800s-1900s – mainly German but not only – wanted ALL colonizing West’s knowledge to be derived from an abstract ‘pure’ Greece in order to justify the exploitation of the lower-races. Winckelmann (1717 – 1768) earlier and Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) bear a foundational responsibility among the rest for this gloomy error]
Pythagoras (Πυθαγόρας) who spread a scientific-religious cult all over South Italy – which will affect Plato, ALL West science & the core of Christianity – travelled long years in Egypt, in the Middle East and Mesopotamia perhaps too: he was permeated by African and Eastern wisdom! Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) surely spent years in Egypt. Just 2 examples, the former being the greatest of them as for the future of Western culture.
[Of course the MoR will remain my main home it goes without saying]
It’s been a tour de force. I’ll here summarize Manius’ plot as it unfolds so far as soon as possible. And I will reply to comments here at the MoR.
[Update: comments have been replied to, but, as for Manius’ plot, I don’t know people, after all that is happening in North Africa and Libya, which certainly concerns Roma (a main theme here at this blog.)
Plus I have another post in mind on Giulio Andreotti, Aldo Moro, Banda della Magliana, Berlusconi, after dear Zeus is watching’ post and the debate around it: very intriguing idea this blogger had, it suffice to watch the trailer below I owe to Zeus.
Who, by the way, being watching, we better ALL behave folks 😉
We will see (which I say when I usually do nothing.)
I usually reply to my readers one by one. Tomorrow it will be the others’ turn.
Explaining Paris Hilton
Thomas. Thank you for an interesting and insightful 795 words! For me, Gramsci adds the needed dimension to Marx that is required to understand/explain contemporary culture. I think his ideas of cultural domination and hegemony go far to explain everything from the Tea Party to Paris Hilton, and maybe Facebook and Twitter as well, but the whole technology thing needs more thought. I’m worried that saying that social media (and reality TV) are vehicles of cultural domination might sound too much like a conspiracy theory. But they certainly do support Gramsci’s view that hegemony is achieved and maintained by consent of the subordinate class.
MoR. “Gramsci adds the needed dimension to Marx that is required to understand/explain contemporary culture.”
You may refer to Gramsci’s study of Marx’s superstructure. Gramsci criticises the notion of a superstructure as simple ‘skin’ of a society, and of a socio-economic base, the ‘skeleton’, that is what really matters by determining the conscience etc.
“Women – Gramsci said – fall in love with the skin, not the skeleton”. Seduction, again, ie cultural hegemony.
[Update: ie people are ‘seduced’ by the ‘skin’ or cultural elements (superstructure) more than by the ‘skeleton’ – socio-economic class structure. It is a metaphorical way of stressing the importance of cultural hegemony, of men’s choices – free, non mechanically predetermined by the economical class structure – and of ‘intellectuals’ in history.]
I think his ideas of cultural domination and hegemony go far to explain everything from the Tea Party to Paris Hilton, and maybe Facebook and Twitter as well.
I’ll get to Facebook and Paris Hilton. But I’ve got to follow a long forgotten reasoning.
Since the core of Gramsci’s reflection is the superstructure – intellectuals being like the agents of it –, by analyzing both the high and the pop culture(s) of several countries he strongly advocates a blend of the two levels.
The intellectuals, he argues, should not be separated– as it always was the case of Italy – from the ‘elementary passions’ of the common people. A folk should be culturally united, as a tendency at least.
Greek Tragedy & Shakespeare
Such culture [update: of a high level, where the ‘intellectuals’ and the common people interact in a two way process] he calls ‘national-popular’ (complex notion to say the truth.) Among the best examples of it Gramsci indicates the Greek tragedy and the Elizabethan theatre, where the majority of the people were involved in a great experience. To him the only Italian example of such ‘artistic unity’ of the people [update: high-low interaction] is the Italian opera (I may possibly add, since I saw it with my eyes, the ‘popular’ love for Dante one can still experience in many parts of Tuscany and elsewhere.)
The Italian Renaissance to him, though sublime, was too elitist [update: ie no participation of the populace, no high-low interaction] and one cause in the end of the Italian decline. The protestant Reformation saw instead great popular participation (Renaissance-Reformation are to Gramsci also dialectic metaphors – in the Hegelian sense of thesis and antithesis – that he uses abstractly.)
Even if at first the Reformation – Gramsci argues – was like a return to the dark ages, it later liberated people’s energies by reaching higher levels of culture and contributing to the construction, among the rest, of the American nation.
US Cultural Hegemony
The first British immigrants to the New World were in fact an intellectual and especially moral elite – Gramsci argues. Defeated religiously in their fatherland but not humiliated, they brought to the New World great will, moral energy and “a certain stage of European historical evolution, which when transplanted by such men into the virgin soil of America, developed – and continues to develop – the forces implicit in its nature but with an incomparably more rapid rhythm than Old Europe”, where the relics of the past generated opposition giving to every initiative the equilibrium of mediocrity …
We all know what happened, how Europe went down and how the US have become the dominant power.
Following Gramsci’s reasoning, the United States exert yet today a cultural hegemony over the world, at both a high and a popular level of culture. Their universities are excellent in all fields (they even have among the best Dante’s specialists!) etc., intellectuals are not that detached from the people (they tend to ‘disseminate’ knowledge in their books, not like here in Italy although things are changing a bit – while France, a not at all bad ‘national-popular’ place in the 19th century – see 19th-century French literature! – is nowadays possibly even more elitist than we are, but I’m not sure.)
Not concluded. Tomorrow, Thomas and you folks. I am European, not American. And my dog Lilla is recovering but she is 15 years old.
Last night I watched Scandal (1989) together with my wife. It is a British film on the Profumo affair – a big political and sexual scandal in the 60’s UK -, well done and especially instructive to me in some way. I needed reflection and data. A few days ago I realised in fact how some readers of the MoR were like disgusted, or scared, by my earlier post “Decameron Reloaded. That the Fun begin“.
I also received 8 mails expressing total dissatisfaction, to put it mildly, AND a few people on the other hand – following my invitation to write stories with some ‘licentia’ – sent me a few original porn stories (2 of them very well written) I will not publish because my blog is not a porn site.
Man of Roma is puzzled. His public is mainly from the English-speaking countries. Given the culture (society) MoR is in, he’s therefore willing to raise his voice a bit and say:
“What’s the matter with you people out there? Why the hell sex is so scary?”
Of course, in the said post some innocent, playful fun between humans and bears occurred, true, but it’s not that I believe people think I find polar bears sexy. No. I am puzzled for the lack of any in-between thing so far arriving to my mailbox, eg, outrage, dissatisfaction etc. – or porn. Nothing outside that.
Frankly, this to Man of Roma is strange.
While I am waiting from some insight from my readers, I guess it’s high time for ‘Sex and the city (of Rome). Season 2‘ new posts. We need some explaining, in other words.
I did by the way receive an interesting e-mail from a very nice US student of archaeology, complimenting me for my blog and all and asking me thought-provoking questions, such as:
[Your opinion about] “the different ways that Roman sexuality is viewed by Americans and Europeans”. For some Americans especially – she argued – “the ancient Romans and modern Italians become the same people. When telling a friend of a friend about all the ‘sexual’ souvenirs that could be bought — replicas of herms and phalli, calendars and postcards featuring Pompeii’s erotic art — the woman’s reaction was something along the lines of ‘What kind of people would sell those sorts of things,’ to which I was quite taken aback. But she clearly viewed the ancient Romans as sexually deviant, and thus by association modern Italians.”
I replied to these and other questions with 2 (3?) LONG letters that will provide materials for the new Sex and the city (of Rome) season. I didn’t though focus on erotic art only (of which I know so little). Being a dilettante polymath, I am afraid I have totally confused (plus disappointed) her.
I once wrote that good food will not be missing in our discussions, together with good music and plenty of delicious wine.
Ok, wine, I have in my hand, a good Primitivo di Puglia.
Good pasta, I’ve just had, Spaghetti al pomodoro con pecorino.
Watch and listen to THIS.
[Felt like paying a little tribute to the German culture and to the British humour – delightful but irreverent sketch, Paul notes below in his comment. Pretty nice contrast the Germans and the British, I’d add, so many little neuroses dividing this petty though adorable Europe…
Days ago I was revising my blog’s categories. I realized how lazy I had been.
‘Culture’ for example indicated both:
the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of a society or group (it’s the Unesco definition) and
the general knowledge and refinement a person can attain through education.
The former, anthropological, relates to groups, while the latter, humanistic, relates to individuals. So my category ‘culture’ has been split in two: culture and knowledge & refinement.
I’ll tell you, my impression is that ‘culture’ in English has progressively lost meaning num 2, which was instead well alive in the past if we have to believe J. C. Shairp, a Scottish man of letters, who wrote in the 19th century:
“What the Greeks expressed by their paideia, the Romans by their humanitas, we less happily try to express by the more artificial word culture.”
Well, if paideia and humanitas were better, culture is better than nothing in any case.
Of course European cultures (anthropological) are very much interrelated. In countries such as France Italy and Germany, for example, people continue to refer to culture also as personal, individual refinement: we have ‘cultura’ in Italian, ‘culture’ in French and ‘Kultur’ in German, which the German Duden dictionary explains with Bildung and verfeinerte Lebensart (refined way of life.)
I’m wondering why the English-speaking countries have retained only the anthropological use of culture. Don’t they like gli uomini di cultura generale any more?
According to my friend jurist cultura was a high culture ideal that mirrored social elitism, so the English-speaking countries, basically more pluralistic, bit by bit moved on. Very good point, but I’m not entirely convinced, there must be something else too.
This thing being more complicated than it seems, I am now asking my readers for insight.
In the meanwhile, I’ll soon post a nice discussion occurred a few days ago where some kind of replies have surfaced: a dialogue among a civil engineer from NYC, an Indian Canadian from Quebec – about to start a career in the film industry – and MoR.
The whole world is chatting about the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s lifestyle. The news are full of details regarding alleged wild parties in his luxurious residences (see below Villa Certosa in Sardinia.) According to these reports all sorts of women attended these festas, including alleged under-age girls and paid escorts (see above Patrizia D’Addario) attracted to a possible career in TV or in politics (see Wikipedia for details.)
Berlusconi, sometimes depicted as a decadent Roman emperor (Mary Beard in the UK Times compared him to Tiberius,) is seen by many as possessing in ways grotesque the flaws usually ascribed to Italians, a lack of sexual restraint and a loose morality, among the rest.
And in fact many Italians voting for him say they like his way of life and admire him for being rich, powerful and for the number of women in his court. This is the way I am – he said replying to journalists asking if he was planning on changing his lifestyle after the scandals – and I cannot change at my age. Italians want me like that and support me.
Other Italians however vote for him because they prefer the right-wing coalition program to a left deprived of ideas and of real leadership. The opinion of a right-wing Italian fellow blogger, Wind Rose hotel, is that being a conservative doesn’t necessarily mean to be a fan of Berlusconi. I’m sure these Italians would prefer a more prudent behaviour by our Prime Minister, although it is to be noted that Berlusconi’s success owes a lot to his frankness which makes him different from the average byzantine Italian politician.
Traditionally Italians care little about a politician’s private life, his private vices being easily forgiven whenever his political action is deemed effective (we have discussed Italian cynicism and some possible historical causes.)
Many Italians are though starting to get embarrassed, to say the least. The line between the private and public sphere seems blurred to them if it is true that women’s sexual favours were /are later rewarded with a political career in the Italian or the European parliament. Someone is talking of Berlusconi’s possible resignation.
“Mr Berlusconi’s court – writes the British Independent – has no soothsayers to warn him of the Ides of March, but the sudden emergence of hostile noises from the Catholic Church is the modern Italian equivalent of that – especially as the Catholic Church continues to hold immense sway over public opinion.”
We are going to see how far Italian cynical indifference will go. Personally I don’t think Berlusconi will resign easily, unless something unprecedented occurs. He is still very powerful, though weakened, and he controls much of the Italian media, plus a lot depends on whether he will succeed in keeping the Italian economy going.
Whether these scandals are doing any real damage to him or not, the uneasiness of the Catholic Church – whose realpolitik is hard put to it – should not be under evaluated, although an additional element has to be considered in my opinion.
Berlusconi’s ambition of playing as a separate negotiator with Russia, Iran and the Middle East is irritating both the EU and the USA. An example is Berlusconi’s support of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline, seen as a rival to the planned Nabucco pipeline backed by the USA and the EU. The South Stream (see image below) is in fact considered dangerous by them since it would extend Russia’s blackmail influence over Europe.
A good example of Berlusconi’s foreign politics. He is so proud of being a personal friend of Putin, although it remains to be seen whether this friendship (or any other independent move) will prove profitable in the long (or even short) run.
Conrad Phillips.Hi Man of Roma, I just came across your blog as I was learning about polyphonic music. I bookmarked your interest in Montaigne and like the Platonic dialogue connection (…) How does Montaigne and narcissism fit into your background? [here the original conversation, MoR]
Man of Roma. Well, narcissism was a sort of a jest in my bio info page, although there is some annoying narcissism in the Mediterranean people, living in the sun, something for example the Britons, from clouds and rough weather, reproach us, not without reason.
But the beauty of classical or Renaissance art cannot be quite understood without considering a certain narcissistic component, in my view. Works of art (like Palladio’s villas or palaces, for example, see the London exhibition) were mainly for great families who sought distinction, éclat. The elegance of a Julius Caesar (here is a post considering this aspect of him), or of most toreros for example, or of the French, who love to correct foreigners who speak their language, can be explained by some vanity as well. It may be a Roman and Greek thing, I don’t want to ennoble it, quite the contrary, but it is in us [see below Narcissus by the painter Caravaggio, 1571 – 1610].
Montaigne is a constant dialogue I have. He mythicizes the ancient world as much as I do, he talks of himself without any self-love, a sort of high level country philosopher, and a spontaneous philosopher.
I often prefer ideas that unfold, like his do, through scattered notes rather than finished books, more sedentary in my view and less thought provoking.
Rome’s legacy is greater than we think – “language, literature, legal codes, government, architecture, engineering, medicine, sports, arts, etc.” – and the Roman Empire has been a powerful myth in the course of the centuries.
Such Empire, Frankish, Germanic (and later Austrian, dissolved in 1806 only) considered itself as the heir of the “First Rome” (the Western Roman Empire,) while the Hellenized Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, was called the “Second Rome” and remained unconquered until 1453 CE.
When also Byzantium (Constantinople) fell, even the Islamic conqueror Ottoman Mehmed II thought he was continuing the power (and idea) of Rome and tried to “re-unite the Empire” although his march towards Italy was stopped in 1480 CE by both the Papal and Neapolitan armies.
After the fall of the Second Rome someone began to refer to Moscow as the “Third Rome“, since the Russian Tsars felt they were the inheritors of the Byzantine Empire’s Orthodox Christian tradition.
[2014 update: allow us to remind that the sovereigns of the two great continental empires dissolved in WWI, the German and the Russian, both bore the name of Kaiser and Tsar, id est Caesar.
So many heirs of Rome! Seems like a futile historical game.
It is not.
Let us see how other nations went on claiming the Roman heritage.
The Victorians, the Italians and the USA
The British Victorians, for example, who felt they were somewhat the spiritual successors of the Romans.
They felt like the heirs of ancient Rome and the creators (again) of a “Third Rome”: after the capital of the Pagan world – they argued – and after the capital of Catholicism, Rome was now to become the capital of a totally New World.
A disproportionate idea, without a doubt.
And the Americans? They also like today to find similarities between their might and the superpower of the ancient times (try to google America, new, Rome: you’ll get an interesting number of results.)
We will though today talk about France (skipping Spain for the sake of brevity.)
Can’t France in fact lay claims as well?
The First French Empire
France inherited many elements from Rome, after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar: language, food habits, behaviours, genes, technologies and a fundamental aestheticism, among the rest.
We have already mentioned the connection between Charlemagne and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. Less obvious are similarities like that between the French Foreign legion and the Roman legions as for training, combat habits, management of terrain (construction of roads etc.) and so on.
Much more significant though is the state tradition of Rome which, according to some scholars, has been preserved in the French monarchic centralism and in the state national spirit of the French people.
The person who shaped this centralism (later continued by Napoleon) was probably Louis XIV (1638 – 1715, see image above,) one of the greatest kings ever. He was called the Sun King (le Roi Soleil) and was associated with Apollo Helios, the Greco-Roman god of the Sun. He also encouraged classicism in the arts and Voltaire compared him to the Roman Emperor Augustus.
Other great personages such as Napoleon Bonaparte (or even Charles de Gaulle, why not) bear the traces of the Roman heritage. Napoleon was inspired first by the Roman Republic. Roman-like, he became First Consul of the French Republic.
Then, after receiving the crown from Pope Pius VII (in Paris, this time) on December 2 1804, he became Emperor of the French people and encouraged a classicist Empire stylein architecture, decorative arts, furniture and women’s dresses based on Ancient Hellenic attire (see below,) a style soon popular in most parts of Europe and its colonies.
Napoleon identified himself with Caesar, was continuously studying his works and succeeded in becoming one of the greatest generals ever, like Caesar and Alexander.
The French and the Italians.
Who Envies Who?
Antonio Gramsci, in Notebook IX of his Prison Notebooks, reflects on some words written by Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) in Histoire d’un crime:
“Every man of heart has two fatherlands in this century: the Rome of the past and the Paris of today … This ancient fatherland – Gramsci argues – associated with the modern one supposes that France is the heir of Rome. Something that was said, and is especially said, today, to displease no small number of people.”
Well, something said to displease whom? Our philosopher probably referred mainly to the Britons and to the Italians.
Focusing on the Italians, one can wander and wonder with Gramsci whether a real francophilia ever existed in our country (Notebook XXVIII.)
France was always admired in Italy – Gramsci observes. France meant the French Revolution, the participation of a large share of the population to the political cultural and state life, it meant a decorous parliamentary activity and many other things that the young Italian state could not exhibit. The Italian francophiles have often concealed a strong dislike and a substantial envy.
I would add that some envy is also felt today by our French cousins when they behold our historical richness, the beauties of our towns etc.
This envy surfaces every time we do something better: with soccer, Ferrari, with the world-wide diffusion of our cuisine & fashion – and so forth.
But let us do ourselves a favour. Let us be honest.
Her grandmother from Apulia – Maryann wrote – had a deep disregard for fortune tellers “and wouldn’t even tolerate us visiting one for fun at the Italian festas. I wonder where this came from.”
I had replied that her grandmother’s behaviour probably derived from the Catholic Church’s reaction against possible survivals of Paganism.
“Italians – I argued – were highly civilized long before (9-10 centuries earlier) Christianity arrived, while many Northern Europeans entered instead civilizationtogether with Christianity (or nearly.) This couldn’t happen without consequences. It made us a bit more pagan, them a bit more Christian.”
“I never thought – he had observed – of the historical angle of Italians being civilized before Christianity thus making them a bit more pagan. Of course, the Romans were pagans!”
“Let me ask you : where do the Italians derive their realistic and cynical posturing? Did it begin after the fall of Rome? Did Machiavelli instil it? Was it years of foreign conquering?”
I think Roman survivals – I had replied – exist in various regions of Europe (like England, Germany, Poland etc.) but here in our country such remnants are more marked.
Cynicism. If you ask about this within a discussion on Italian pagan survivals you probably suspect there is a connection. I am convinced there is, although it can’t be easily proved.
A long history of glories and defeats, foreign conquering, the influence of intellectuals like Machiavelli – all this must have contributed. Although Machiavelli, to me, is more like the product of a culture. He reinforced elements that were already existing.
Did these ‘elements’ develop after the fall of Rome or did they stem from the previous Greco-Roman culture, or both things? Both, in my view.
What we mean by ‘cynicism’
Let’s first see what we mean by cynicism today:
A. Cynicism is “a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.” (Oxford and Webster dictionaries).
B.Cynical is “the person who, with acts and words, shows scorn and indifference towards the ideals, or conventions, of the society he lives in.” (Dizionario Italiano Treccani).
[I may be wrong, but there’s a difference between the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ definition (A) and the Italian one (B). To the former, values seem more like a given, while the latter appears more relativist: values are historical, not eternal]
In any case. Isn’t it possible that behaviours seen as indifferent and cynical according to certain values appear only such because partially obeying to diverse (alien) moral codes coming from the Greco-Roman antiquity?
Let us have a look at these alien codes then.
No Conflicts of Conscience
Which is no easy task, the Greco-Roman philosophers were divided into different schools, plus the Ancients behaved differently according to the different ages.
Thus said, I basically agree with what the British historian C. P. Rodocanachi wrote about the Athenians of the V century BC (which on the whole and to a certain extent applies to the Greco-Romans.)
“[Absence of conflicts of conscience: the Greeks were quit] of this inhibiting and agonizing struggle. Their morals were civic and not religious. Their sense of duty was directed exclusively to the city …
They knew nothing of the Christian idea of good faith, of intentions conditioning acts in such a manner that the most law-abiding citizen may feel himself a great criminal at heart…
[They] may be considered as being intrinsically amoral and this very amorality was a powerful constituent of balance of mind which they could never have attained if their conscience had been torn, as ours is, between the conflicting forces of good and evil, virtue and vice, pleasure and sin.
They could enjoy beauty, taste the delights of life without a pang of conscience. So long as they were faithful to the laws and interests of the city they had no damnation to fear, either in this world or the next.”
By intention Rodocanachi meant that just thethought of a sin is almost like committing the sin itself [these two articles – 1 and 2 – may help further.]
Not Torn Between Pleasure and Sin
Ok. So what’s the conclusion of all this?
The conclusion equals the beginning, ie we get back to where we started.
Rodocanachi compares the Greek and the Christian (or Protestant) attitudes. Italians definitely belong to the former, to the ‘Greek’ cultural area.
Almost any Italian would confirm that we are not that torn between virtue and vice, pleasure and sin, that we do not much fear damnation (and almost never speak of hell.)
Even if Italians captained for centuries the switch from the Pagan religion(s) to Christianity, their Christian feelings are superficial, no matter how false (or outrageous) this may sound (see note 3.)
Even among Catholics, when taking the Italians and the Irish for example, we are not that strict compared to a lot of things.
The Lewinsky scandal, President Bill Clinton’s trial and this whole Scarlet Letter atmosphere literally sent Italians rolling on the floor laughing – I hope I won’t offend somebody saying that.
The Epicurean Rome of the Renaissance
“Your religion is not serious, you are cynical, indifferent!” was the comment by many North Europeans that travelled about Italy during the Renaissance. Their feelings were halfway between admiration and condemnation.
The splendid epicurean Rome of the Renaissance (admire above Villa d’Este) appeared often repulsive to them, one reason why the eternal city was brutally sacked by protestant troops in 1527 AD (this comment develops MoR’s peculiar approach to Italian Renaissance.)
Truth is, our mind islike amuseum, which makes us appear cynical, indifferent.
We are inclined to live the joys of life and sometimes do bad deeds without those self-punishment mechanisms that stem from breaking fundamentalist moral codes. Our flexibility (and confusion) springs from ancient mores that contribute to make us the way we are.
In some regions of our mind, it may be liked or disliked, we are still pagan at heart.
The ideas in this and other posts cannot be considered as demonstrated, and need further research.
1) Quote from C. P. Rodocanachi , Athens and the Greek Miracle, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1948.
2) My answers to Maryann and Exposrip have been further processed since their questions have kept bugging my mind (original texts here.)
3) In Notebook IV of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks we read: “There is no doubt that Italian religious feelings are superficial, as there is no doubt that religion here has a character which is mainly political, of international hegemony.” So it seems that also the pre-Christian role of government of peoples still survives: Imperial Rome is resurrected into Catholic Rome. Gramsci wrote this note in a period between 1929 and 1935. He was a Marxist. We are not. His stimulating ideas went though well beyond Marxism and G. is now appreciated by Marxists and non Marxists, by left-wing and right-wing thinkers all the world over.
[See 2009 and 2013 updates at the foot of this writing]
Why sex, one of the joys of life, – lived with some freedom in the Greco-Roman world or at the time of the Indian Gupta empire (just to name two civilizations considered somewhat classical) – became in later centuries something to be ashamed of? Was it in the West because of the switch from Paganism to Christianity? And in India, was it because of Muslim or British Victorian influence, or of both?
(We make known to minors that one picture following may offend their sentiments)
Since I have been musing on these questions in my series Sex and the city (of Rome) – thanks also to a good discussion with two Indians, Ashish and Falcon – I was struck recently by all the commotion regarding the Victorians & homophobia thing in many ex colonies of the British Empire, and especially in India.
We are also at a time when French President Nicolas Sarkozy has just proposed to the UN to decriminalize homosexual acts all over the world, and all 27 European nations have agreed. The Church of Rome is instead strongly against it. The topic seems hot.
Same-sex love was accepted, it is well known, in Ancient Greece and it was sometimes a bit frowned upon in Rome but basically widely tolerated (Julius Caesar for example was probably bisexual: a future post on Caesar will also mention that. We also mentioned some possible female homosexuality in the secret rites of the Roman goddess Bona Dea).
As far as the ancient Indian civilizations I guess it was pretty much the same (see the image below at Khajuraho) although I need someone with more knowledge than I have.
Today India gay activists accuse “Britain of exporting homophobia during the 19th century when colonial administrators began enforcing Victorian laws and morals on their Indian subjects [the Independent].” Homophobia, they say, is something alien to the original Indian civilizations.
The organisation Human Rights Watch has recently published a 66-page report describing “how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860.”
Under accusation is the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” with imprisonment up to life. In short, it punishes same-sex love.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs defends the Indian code:
“The law does not run separately from society …. Section 377 … responded to the values and mores of the time in the Indian society.”
“This is sheer amnesia” answers the Report:
“Section 377, at its origin, did not respond to Indian society or its “values or mores” at all. British colonial governors imposed it on India undemocratically. It reflected only “the British Judeo-Christian values of the time.”
A ruling is expected soon by the High Court in Delhi, following a “years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there.”
“We are squarely to blame if even 61 years after independence we are incapable to seeing which law is reasonable and which one is not. The British have moved on, and have liberal laws on homosexuality today.”
Sex. Always a complex topic in any society.
I need a higher authority on what is happening in the sub continent and elsewhere. Any Indian (or non Indian) take?
Readings. Here some of Nita’s recommendations on the subject:
We said there is a general attraction-repulsion among the people from North and South Europe. Let’s forget the repulsion thing now and let us instead focus on the undoubted attraction we feel for each other – as for our use of the term hyperborean pls read this note.
the North Wind
The ancient Greeks dreamed about a mythical people living in a pagan Eden beyond Boreas, the north wind (hyper-Boreas = ‘beyond the north wind’). The Hyperboreans were imagined as perfect and almost god-like.
Thus Pindar in the V century BC:
Never the Muse is absent
from their ways: lyres clash and flutes cry
and everywhere maiden choruses whirling.
Neither disease nor bitter old age is mixed
in their sacred blood; far from labour and battle they live.
Such a bliss was though difficult to reach:
Never on land or by sea will you find
the marvellous road to the feast of the Hyperborea.
So Hyperborea was like a feast. Hard to tell which real experiences fed the myth but we perceive like attraction vibes coming from the Mediterranean and addressed towards some mythical folk of the north-east.
At least 5 centuries later, the Roman historian Tacitus, in his book Germania about the Germans (full text here) – a group of tribes also coming from the North-East – noted in AD 98: “In every house the children grow up, thinly and meanly clad, to that bulk of body and limb which we behold with wonder.” Less myth here but concrete admiration for the Germans’ powerful bodies (and pristine virtues.)
Caesar himself had appreciation for the Germans, if utilizing them in battle is any indication. Ancient Rome was filled with northern slaves who, even though seen as savages, were admired for their aspect and many Roman ladies wore expensive wigs made from their blonde or red hair.
Not Angles, but Angels
That the Mediterranean people found these northern folks attractive is confirmed by a legendary event with some historical ground. If true, it occurred more than 500 years after Tacitus’ time.
He then so exclaimed with a pun: “Non Angli, sed Angeli”, “they are not Angles, but Angels” and added: “Well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.” Thus, according to Beda, he thought to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity and sent Augustine of Canterbury to Britain for this purpose.
Not much has changed since then. As regards contemporary Britons, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch and Germans (among the rest,) today’s Mediterranean people still see them as different in their bodies, skin, eyes, manners, and these differences are often seductive, beyond a doubt. Exactly as to Gregory, their children look such fair-skinned sweet angels to us. The women and the men we see as provided with a diverse beauty we generally find irresistible.
At 17 I was stunned watching the Irish girls dancing in the Dublin discos. The way they moved their bodies to the rhythm of music was so damn different from our girls’: a ‘lesser grace equals more grace’ type of thing, which almost knocked me out.
Churches as Factories for Marriage
A 45 years old American IT expert, italoamericano, confessed that the Italian and the Irish Americans who often gather in Catholic churches all over the States do feel this reciprocal attraction. “Churches are sometimes like factories for marriages. As far as us Italians– he confirmed – we cannot resist those fair and blue-eyed faces”. He had in fact married an Irish woman. Whether he met her in a church I’m not in a position to tell.
An attraction reciprocal. An American woman of German-English descent had lived in a small town close to Chicago. She said she gazed longingly at those Italians in the days when her catholic mother took her to the local church.
Ok, basta. Since from serious this post has become gossipy (and voyeuristic) I will redeem myself in the next and last post dedicated to the Hyperboreans.
Hopefully we won’t just talk about the physical qualities we admire in them.
Note. I couldn’t find an appropriate picture with English or German children (for Gregory’s angels.) The image above refers to Swedish girls during Luciadagen (Saint Lucia’s day) on December 13th. It is moving how these “sun starved people” revere Lucia (or Lucy,) the Saint of light born in sunny Sicily (her name coming from the Latin word lux = light.)
During the darkest days of the year they pray Lucia to bring the sun back to them.
(“Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by the Lutheran Swedes, Finland-Swedes, Danes and Norwegians in celebrations that retain many indigenous Germanic pagan pre-Christian midwinter light festivals” – Wikipedia)
In the British character Italians may perceive elements of brutality. This for example appears when they become angry and yell, both the men and the women. It is a cry sometimes unpleasant and almost repugnant to us, sorry to say that. It is not clear whether it is us who are too soft or them too hard.
A young girl very close to my family, Claudia, who had studied one month in Cambridge, England (see image above,) was walking one day on a street of that lovely town – she told us. Being unexpectedly captured by a shop-window and stopping in wonder in front of it, her rapture was suddenly (and rudely) shattered by a cutting rebuke – ‘STUPID GIRL!!!’ – yelled with such hardness by a middle-aged woman whose hasty walking had apparently been blocked by the girl’s sudden halt.
Despite Claudia’s outspoken character, she stayed frozen on that same spot for a few seconds, aghast.
Now it doesn’t really matter who was right, the English woman (more likely) or the young absent-minded (and possibly unruly) 17-years-old Italian girl. What I’m focusing on here is the nastiness of that cry – Claudia is a splendid imitator – and the lack of humanitasand sympathywe sometimes perceive in some Northern European people, despite their correctness and civic manners (surely greater than ours: see a conversation with Alex, a Briton, and other persons in Alex’s blog.)
Manchester United’s Din of War
Let me remember an impressive football game between Juventus and Manchester United played a few years ago at the Old Trafford stadium. In that occasion the United fans showed such a wild reaction against the psychological blow delivered to them by a first-minute scorching shot by Alessandro Del Piero – he elegantly dribbled sideways and scored (see below) – that the whole episode how can I ever forget.
The stadium was suddenly struck dumb. All, I mean ALL, United fans (50,000? 60,000?) were like annihilated and remained totallysilent for several minutes. Such a terrible silence, such an impressive collective affliction we didn’t suspect what it soon would lead to.
After a while here in fact comes a low-pitched grumbling first, like an unnatural deep buzz, followed by a crescendo of shouts screams bellows against the Italian team, which kept growing and growing and became so deafening that the Juventus players, made incapable to reason, their morale disrupted, ran into total defeat.
I was bewildered and indignant! All seemed so unfair, brutal!
“Here was lamentation among them all night long, not like the wailings and groanings of men, but howlings and bellowings with a strain of the wild beast in them, mingled with threats and cries of grief …. The whole plain was filled with an awful din, and the Romans were filled with fear, and even Marius himself was filled with consternation.” It was 102 BC, the night before the terrible battle of Aquae Sextiae.
I couldn’t but think about that famous night while I was watching the total disbandment of one of the best soccer teams in the world.
A Human Avalanche
Well, the Romans’ peasant’s endurance was surely tougher than Juventus’ (looking for a base consolation, am I not.) Being petrified by that shocking sound and not able to sleep (the Romans,) the following morning they nevertheless pulled themselves together and wiped out their enemies with a double attack from the front and from behind.
The battle and the following one near Vercellae (modern Vercelli, Italy) ended up with the total annihilation of the human avalanche who had terrorised the nations of the Empire (Mommsen).
I know all this happened 21 centuries ago, I know I’m digressing and it’s surely unfair to see in today’s English fans the grand-children of those first German hordes
[Alex observes: “Being from the UK, I am considered by the Italians to be someone from an Anglo-Saxon culture … you’ll be happy to hear that I rarely wear fur.”]
And yet, believing as much as I do that even the most far-away past can be alive in our present, that din from the United fans …
In the end, since it’s not only British-like to grant the honours of war to courage, we’ll admit the United fans were not totally unfair (they were only a bit,) and most of all, leaving football trivia behind, we feel like paying the humblest of tributes to the brave Cimbri and Teutons and especially to their unbelievably fierceandferocious women.
So here are Plutarch’s words (Life of Marius), not for the faint of heart:
“(Acquae Sextiae) the Romans kept slaying them until they came in their flight to their camp and waggons. Here the women met them, swords and axes in their hands, and with hideous shrieks of rage tried to drive back fugitives and pursuers alike, the fugitives as traitors, and the pursuers as foes; they mixed themselves up with the combatants, with bare hands tore away the shields of the Romans or grasped their swords, and endured wounds and mutilations, their fierce spirits unvanquished to the end.”
“(Vercellae?) The fugitives, however, were driven back to their entrenchments, where the Romans beheld a most tragic spectacle. The women, in black garments, stood at the waggons and slew the fugitives — their husbands or brothers or fathers, then strangled their little children and cast them beneath the wheels of the waggons or the feet of the cattle, and then cut their own throats. It is said that one woman hung dangling from the tip of a waggon-pole, with her children tied to either ankle.”
In Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds I had a discussion with the Commentator about how South and North Europeans see one another. Since I was planning a few posts on this topic, such a discussion can work as a starting point. Texts are abridged and edited a bit.
[This post] further reinforces my suspicion … of this attraction between Italy and Germany. It seems Roman civilization had a great influence on this.
Which brings me into another question. England (UK) was invaded by both Romans and Germanics (Angles, Jutes, Saxons). Yet, I do not feel there is anything that connects Britain to Italy in any way. In fact, I usually get the distinct feeling the UK has a somewhat condescending (if not superficial) view of Italy. You read it in their history books and in some cases how they interpret Italian soccer.
[…] I realize there are some Germans that hold similar views (I read somewhere that the Italian community has never been accepted in Germany) but as a general discussion, where does Britain break off from Germany when it comes to Italy?
Man of Roma
First of all, when dealing with foreigners, one has to accept bias and some sort of racism, this not being avoidable, for a number of reasons. Every person should be proud of his/her heritage, without becoming a nationalist though. […]
Thus said, I think there is a general attraction-repulsion among the folks from North and South Europe. This includes the UK and Germany and other northern European people vs South Europe and vice versa.
It is in fact a two-way thing [we’ll focus on repulsion now]: not only many North Europeans dislike us, but it is also many of us disliking them. We (Italians, Spanish, Portuguese etc.) admire some of these people’s qualities, but we generally disapprove of their lack of taste and style and often see them as a bunch of depressed (and rude) drunkards. Of course this is not my view but there is some truth in this (like there is some truth in the flaws North foreigners see in us).
Goethe, a great lover of Italy, – Kennst du das Land … Do you know the land where the lemons bloom? – writes at the end of the XVIII century that he forgives ‘the Northern people who criticize Italy because these people (the Italians) are really so different from us’. It is interesting how he explains this ‘difference’ and his Italian Journey is a great book also from this point of view (see above Goethe as painted by Karl Joseph Stieler).
How can in fact exist an easy mutual understanding between the people of the Mediterranean and theHyperboreans, namely the northern folks living in a realm of clouds, rain, cold and darkness? Such diverse climate (together with a different history) is a potent factor for creating marked differences in behaviour, mood, disposition of soul etc., all of which makes intercourse difficult (Hyperboreans is how the Greco-Romans called the people living ‘beyond Boreas’, eg the North wind, and it is sometimes used to indicate folks from cold climates in general).
I read somewhere that the Italian community has never been accepted in Germany.
I’d say the Germans have now worse problems with non-EU immigrants. In any case they had this invasion of such different people, the Italians from the Mezzogiorno, it is understandable. And there is always a difference of attitude (towards the Italians) between the so to say romanized Germans and the non romanized ones. In many parts of Northern and central (Protestant) Germany [where the Romans never arrived: see my post Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds] Italians are often disliked, it is true. The Protestant Germans, the Dutch etc. for example, didn’t want the so called Club Med (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece) to become part of the Euro zone. They basically said: “These places are just nice for a vacation, that’s all …”.
Where does Britain break off from Germany when it comes to Italy.
Well, Germans are our neighbours, while Britain is far. But I would say Britain breaks off from the entire Continent. They are islanders, they do not feel European in my opinion [a few Brits said this also here], and many people from the Continent (Italians included) return this feeling and find it hard to love them, I don’t see how it could be otherwise, since the British feel superior to continentals, not to mention Southern continentals.
But I wouldn’t say “there is nothing that connects Britain to Italy in any way.” First of all their literature is often like a hymn to Italy (take Shakespeare, Byron or E. M. Forster with his A Room with a View). Additionally many seem today very attached to their Roman past. There is like a Roman frenzy now in Great Britain. Tomorrow [last July 22] the British Museum opens up an exhibition on the Roman emperor Hadrian, the one who built the Hadrian’s Wall. Very complex and modern personality, Hadrian (see the exhibition trailer). Hundreds of UK web sites celebrate Ancient Rome. Roman.Britan.org is one of them. Also popular culture and movies (King Arthur, The Last Legion etc.) reveal like a (subterranean?) feeling that they are (well, they were) somewhat the heirs of the Romans.
Finally Italy is admired by them in many other ways, and I am convinced – also because many Brits told me – that they are a bit envious: our culture and history are richer, our food and clothing better, our towns immensely more beautiful, people here possess more charm, joy of life etc.. Ooopss, I forgot the climate lol.
Thus Byron sang in a period – the beginning of the XIX century – when Italy was at the top of her decline while Great Britain was at the apex of her world power:
The commonwealth of kings, the men of Rome!
And even since, and now, fair Italy!
Thou art the garden of the world, the home
Of all Art yields, and Nature can decree; Even in thy desert, what is like to thee?
Thy very weeds are beautiful,thy waste
More rich than other climes’ fertility; Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm that cannot be defaced.
[I love Byron, certainly not because he likes Italy, no, not for that]
As regards soccer, well, we won the World Cup, not them. Someone told me Italians are now upset because Perfidious Albion is hiring a lot of young promising Italian players. We pay a lot to raise them, then they arrive and buy them. No, I wouldn’t say they don’t like our soccer, it’s just they realise it is so different from theirs. Soccer, like any other sport, is revealing. We really AREdifferent people.
So what, is that a problem? Differences create richness & complementarity. They make the world a better place to live in.
The commentator thus commented my first comment to Rob’s post, saying: “Was the above (specifically regarding our values versus terrorists) a defence of moral equivalism?”. Well – apart from endorsing Islamic terrorism, which of course I don’t – if being a relativist means (as I think it means) not believing in absolute truths valid forever and outside any historical and social context, yes, I am a convinced relativist. Also democracy to me is relative (I can see many readers jumping up in their chairs).
Separation of state and religion, ok, I like it a lot, but this is not enough to proclaim our superiority over other civilizations (such as the Islamic) plus why should secularism be an absolute truth? As regards democracy, it doesn’t seem in my view the ideal solution for some people, plus it is not granted, as many analysts now start to recognize, that economical growth automatically will lead to more democracy. The case of Russia and China is often indicated as instructive from this point of view. And I believe it really is.
This reminds me when all the world applauded (me included) when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to swiftly democratize the Soviet Union. At the same time all the world protested (me included) when the Chinese students asking for more democracy (hence imitating the Russians) were crushed by the military in the Tien An Men Square in 1989 (watch above a famous movie regarding that tragic episode).
But then, what theheck has happened? Who theheck was right? The Russians (who accelerated democracy) or the Chinese (who hindered it because they thought it would tear down a country of 1.5 billion people)? I have lived almost one year in Russia (in the year 2000) and I have witnessed the almost TOTAL collapse of a society and all the terrible consequences that ensued (this country now pulling itself together thanks btw to its new Caesar, or Tzar, Mr. Putin: can this be by mere chance?).
I know Anglo-Saxons are very sensitive about this democracy thing. They use it as a propaganda weapon, not many doubts about it, but there is something deeper. If democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks, only the British and the American people in modern times were capable of creating truly great democracies (plus, isn’t the Indian democracy – the biggest in the world – somewhat derived from Great Britain as well? I hope Falcon won’t be upset 😉 ).
We admire the Anglo-Saxons for what they have achieved, for this great contribution and influence in all this. But if they do not really try hard to understand the rest of the world, especially those very old civilizations so different from theirs (and ours), and if they do not get out of their mental schemes, I am afraid their decline (and ours, unfortunately) will be swifter than expected. They (especially the Americans) cannot expect they can export their political solutions (that took so many centuries to develop, from Magna Charta on) to totally different historical and social environments (like Iraq or Afghanistan) which might embrace these solutions in the long run, who knows, although it is not granted at all, I am sure it is not granted at all, not many doubts about it. In any case, I am for democracy, that’s for sure. I just wanted to add some elements of reflection.
“apologists for terrorism, the mumblers and rootcausers, the people seemingly capable of understanding everything except the need for drawing a clear line between those who uphold the politics of democracy and those dedicated to their destruction. The left today …is a loose movement which is able … to mobilize … to oppose conflicts fought by the Western democracies against the ugliest of tyrannies and/or reactionary social and political forces…”.
Well, first of all I do not consider myself belonging to the left any more, hence many things he says here and elsewhere do not regard me much; secondly, I see in his words some hypocrisy, sorry to say that, exactly like in Tony Blair’s words (but I may be wrong and I’ll try to read more of his writings).
The thing is I am not blaming America for being a superpower and for fighting (sometimes badly, I’ll admit) for her interests. I love and admire America. And I believe she is a true democracy. But – as I said – I also believe that empires and powers (such as the Romans, the Turkish Ottomans, the Victorians, the USA etc.), are not ruled mainly by idealism or ethics; they are rather ruled most of all by Realpolitik, namely by practical considerations regarding their interests.
So, according to Norm, as you call him, am I an apologist of terrorism if I say that a democracy like America now says she fights against “the ugliest of tyrannies” (it is still to be proven for which reasons) while, at the times of Henry Kissinger, she fought for “the ugliest of tyrannies” (Greek colonels, ruthless dictators all over South America etc.)?
My opinion is that this passage by Norm is a bit abstract and apologetic, not to mention a few apparent doses of historical amnesia.
This post originates from a debate I had with Falcon,Ashish and especially Rob and regarding: values, the West, the Islamic extremists etc. First Rob replied to a comment of mine saying I raised too many issues so it’d be too arduous to fully accept the challenge. But the same I can say of his post (an even more complex reply to my comment lol), so I’ll just consider some topics mentioned by him (plus Ashish’s and Falcon’s remarks) and will talk freely without too much organization, being a bit tired after a long work trip (and hoping I won’t say too many silly things lol).
Is Decadence Advancing (or Just Old Age)?
Western leaders are talking so much about values. But where is the line between what they really feel and political propaganda? I am referring to the Tony Blair’s speech quoted by Rob but this of course is not only true of Western leaders. This is also true of almost any leader. Although on the whole I see some decadence advancing in our part of the world, which might correspond to the natural cycle of civilizations, more or less like what happened to the civilization of ancient Rome. I mean, Western leaders can try to propose their societies (and their values) as models, but what are the real ideas we are exporting around the world?
Just an example taken from today’s entertainment field. At least two movie industries are now flooding the world with their films: Hollywood and Bollywood, the former selling all over the world, the latter selling all over Asia (Muslim countries included) but now starting to be appreciated outside Asia as well. I may be wrong but Bollywood moviegoers seem to entertain themselves in a much healthier way, while American movies (not to mention US video games) are now so painted with blood, stupidities and disgusting violence (apart from some technological perfection which in any case is not much influential over the quality of content) that the final educational result on the public tends in my view towards new forms of barbarism (see above a view of the Hollywood boulevard: source).
Blind Hatred plus Moral Disgust?
I abhor the Islamic fascists, as you call them, Rob. And I am not neutral. Quite the contrary. These repugnant people have made the world much worse than it was before, in my opinion. But if we do not understand that many of them are also motivated by some sort of moral disgust towards some ways of the West, we miss an important point.
Take Bali, Indonesia. The islamofascists hit Kuta twice in 2002 and 2005 with some bombs and killed hundreds of people, mostly Westerners. I have been to Bali a few times and I believe it is not by chance they hit the Kuta beach area so much.
Bali is the only Hindu island in a country, Indonesia, mostly Muslim. This was symbolic to them, not many doubts about it, but I think a main point was also they hit right a place in Bali (Kuta) where the Westerners most succeeded in totally corrupting the local people who are now selling themselves in various ways for money, while in other parts of this great island the Balinese retain their unbelievable dignity and their incredibly refined cultural values, yes, so refined that even peasants look like princes (look above at the pure beauty of these two Balinese dancers: source).
Although by this I do not mean the West has no values, and the non-West has. And we are not the only ones to use values as ideological weapons, as I said before. Ashish, this young Indian blogger, puts it very synthetically: “Religion [and any idealism, I think he means, MoR] is merely the vehicle, the true goal is world supremacy. Does the west prevail over the east or is it otherwise? … The bosses only care about the profits [oil for the west, power for the clerics], be it the West or the Middle East. Religion is merely a way to get yourself an army, because nobody fights as ruthlessly as a fanatic!” Very well said indeed.
A comment from another Indian blogger also in his twenties, Falcon, who writes: “Let’s face it, a large no. of Islam followers have their rationality almost blinkered by faith. They may be very humble and polite and would gladly discuss religion and point out its greatness and fallacies but try touching Islam and they get defensive.”
Well, it is true, also some Mulsim students of mine behaved like that. But I remember things were a bit different before September 11. What I believe is that, especially the new Muslim generation is living like a generational wave. That terrible, unbelievable terrorist attack (nothing cannot be compared to it) has unfortunately fascinated too many young minds. Sept 11 is not the only factor, but the development of things in Turkey (once the most secularized Muslim Nation) is very instructive in my view. How long will this woeful wave last? Hard to say. It will none the less pass away, I am sure of it (or is it my hope and ideals blinkering me now?).
Left & Right
You quote intellectuals from the left, Rob, thinking it can make some difference to me. It doesn’t. The left is only my origin and I do not belong to any faction any more. It is a complicated topic not to be discussed here, but I try to reason with my mind only, not caring where good (to me) ideas come from and in my view what really counts has very little to do with this dichotomy.
For example, words such as reactionary elements do not mean anything to me. And they do not mean anything to the new generations. Listen again to Falcon commenting this post of mine: “Could somebody explain to me what exactly reaction mean? What was the action we did that we are facing a reaction?”. He then continues, going maybe towards some sort of relativism: “As long as there will be a feeling, that one set of ideals and values are better than the others there is bound to be a struggle for supremacy. Islam can teach us a lot things, just like any other religion. The only question is: are we ready to learn?”
Rob wrote an interesting post, Support Shiv Malik’s book, regarding various things among which a speech Tony Blair delivered to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in August 1, 2006. As Rob writes, Tony Blair “called for a complete renaissance on foreign policy to combat reactionary Islam:”
“Whatever the outward manifestation at any one time – argued Blair, then Prime Minister – it is a global fight about global values; it is about modernization, within Islam and outside of it; it is about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled and appealing that it beats theirs. Islamist extremism’s whole strategy is based on a presumed sense of grievance that can motivate people to divide against each other. Our answer has to be a set of values strong enough to unite people with each other.
This is not just about security or military tactics. It is about hearts and minds about inspiring people, persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand for.” [italics by Rob]
This is my comment:
“A very good post, Rob. I will only comment on one aspect where we probably are of different opinion.”
“This complete “renaissance” on foreign policy to combat Islam fanatics, seen as a global fight about global values … mmmm, nice talk indeed. Tony Blair is a valuable man in many respects and he is not deprived of some greatness. I admired him for example in his last day as a prime Minister, where he showed dignity and courage.”
“But let us face it: how can Mr. Blair think he/we/the West can win this battle for values? Which were the values that provoked the Iraqi war? Finding (non existent) mass destruction weapons? Exporting democracy? Everybody now has a clearer idea why that war was started: for power in the region and for oil. Ok, that is realpolitik. Every power plays its game in the world chessboard. None the less, I am asking myself, are we especially entitled or do we have any special chances to win such a battle on global values? Isn’t there instead a lack of values in the West? Isn’t Blair’s talk you quote hypocritical to a large extent?”
“This war has provoked the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (the number of US casualties being in comparison irrelevant). The Italian Berlusconi government joined the so to say happy bunch, my only consolation being that the VAST majority of Italians were totally against that war.
Not that I think the Islamic fanatics have better values. But are we sure our set of values is really much more “robust, true, principled and appealing” that it is so clear that it can beat theirs?”
In Notebook IV of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks we read an appreciation of Ernst Walser’s suggestion that, in order to better understand Italian Renaissance men, one should think of contemporary Italians (to a certain extent.)
We believe that, inversely, the same could be said of Italian Renaissance men. To better understand them one should think of the Ancients, namely the Greeks and the Romans (to a certain extent.)
OK. But don’t we have a greater distance between contemporary Italians and the Ancients?
We do. Nonetheless there are amazing continuities, and these only interest us. Which are these continuities?
An Army of Don Juans
Narrowing our focus on the themes discussed in Sex and the city (of Rome)1, 2, 3 and 4, we’ve just heard this sentence in a History Channel war documentary film:
The film referred to an Italian military expedition sent by Mussolini somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Now, I find this funny, and I am asking myself: is this the way many people from the English-speaking countries consider us? A bunch of Don Juans lol? I know it was perhaps a boutade but if this is even just partly true, what is the reason for that?
Other associations in fact arise.
Why Latin folks are considered sensual (or sensualists) by many people in the United States and in the UK?
Why Casanova was Italian and Don Juan Spanish? And why all American women went crazy for Elvis Presley (or even more for Rodolfo Valentino) who came from the south of the USA, an area marked by some Spanish & French influence ? Was it only because he was just handsome and his voice great?
Now the BIG question: is it possible we’re facing here some of those long-period permanences or survivals French historian Fernand Braudel built his historical method upon?
I mean, aren’t we dealing here with remnants of ‘alien’, pre-Christian, ways of living one’s sexuality?
Isn’t this what is so seductive, though felt as sinful and almost amoral, but, for this same reason, irresistible?
It is not our intent to exhaust (or to applaud) the phenomenon of Don Juanism, a complicated topic with a few unpleasant aspects (you might like this post on Julius Caesar’s Don Juanism). No self-indulgence here, pls, all we care about being the possible survivals of a far away past.
Let us thus continue with our associative questions.
How come the North Europeans who came down to Rome during the Renaissance were both spellbound and disgusted?
Is it because they perceived the Christian religion was not taken seriously by the Romans and by the Italians of that time?
Can’t it be this was due to the fact that most of these Northern people started to be really civilised only with the spread of Christianity, eg with Christianisation,while we were already civilised one thousand years earlier?
[highly civilized during ancient Roman times: Italian Renaissance didn’t come out of a desert, read a moving page here]
Can’t it be that they are the true Christians (culturally, at least, so no matter if believers or not) while in us paganism (and behaviours attached to it) has left some (or many) traces?
[ See an overview of the MoR’s blog main themes]
Can’t it be the reason (I am obsessive, I know) why the Christian religion was here felt mainly as a political thing, eg a way of governing the minds and the spirits of men, in ways not dissimilar to when ancient Rome was governor of nations?
Why our cardinals and even numerous Popes had lovers? Why the great Polish Pope (who surely had no lovers) was appreciated more by the big politicians of the planet (who flocked to his funeral) and less by the spiritual gurus of our time?
[Today the Vatican is perceived as a political – more than a spiritual – institution, I don’t have many doubts about it; even in Germany the Dalai Lama is more popular – 44% – than the German Pope Benedict XVI – 42% -, data emerged from a poll published by Der Spiegel in July 2007]
Why in the end many British and American historians, when discussing the Italian Renaissance, show(ed) until recently some kind of moral repulsion?
Let us therefore listen to the words of Preserved Smith, an American historian of the Middle Ages, who wrote the Renaissance entry in the 1956 edition of the Britannica:
“A succession of worldly pontiffs brought the Church into flagrant discord with the principles of Christianity. Steeped in pagan learning, desirous of imitating the manners of the ancients, thinking and feeling in harmony with Ovid and Theocritus, and, at the same time rendered cynical by the corruption of papal Rome, the [Italian] educated classes lost their grasp upon morality …”
“The Christian virtues were scorned by the foremost actors and the ablest thinkers of the time … The Church saw no danger in encouraging a pseudo-pagan ideal of life, violating its own principle of existence … and outraging Christendom openly by its acts and utterances.”
Italian society – Preserved Smith continues – was hardly aware that the New Learning it had mostly contributed to create had provoked “an intellectual force of stupendous magnitude and incalculable explosive power …”. His conclusion is beautiful (though tragic for us):
“Why should not [Italian] established institutions proceed upon the customary and convenient methods of routine, while the delights of existence were augmented, manners polished, arts developed and a golden age of epicurean ease made decent by a state religion which no one cared to break with because no one was left to regard it seriously? This was the attitude of the Italians when the Renaissance, which they had initiated as a thing of beauty, began to operate as a thing of power beyond the Alps”.
And in fact Italy was soon to be colonised by that same ‘power’ she had mostly contributed to bring into being.
[Speaking of paganism, Gramsci argues in that same Notebook IV: “There is no doubt that Italian religious feelings are superficial, as there is no doubt that religion here has a character which is mainly political, of international hegemony“]
So it seems we are often considered amoral and not true Christians. Are we amoral? Are we not true Christians? Are we decadent, rotten? Or maybe someone is simply not fully capable of understanding us?
Life with no Pang of Conscience
I will finish this draft conclusion of Sex and the city (of Rome) with this interesting passage written by a British historian, C. P. Rodocanachi (of Greek descent, probably), and dedicated to what he considers a potent factor of the Greek miracle (Athens and the Greek Miracle, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1948).
This text sheds light in our view on the Greek mind and, to a certain extent, on the Roman mind, plus on some aspects of Italian Renaissance men as well:
Absence of conflicts of conscience: the Greeks were quit “of this inhibiting and agonizing struggle. Their morals were civic and not religious. Their sense of duty was directed exclusively to the city … They knew nothing of the Christian idea of good faith, of intentions conditioning acts in such a manner that the most law-abiding citizen may feel himself a great criminal at heart …”
“[They] may be considered as being intrinsically amoral and this very amorality was a powerful constituent of balance of mind which they could never have attained if their conscience had been torn, as ours is, between the conflicting forces of good and evil, virtue and vice, pleasure and sin.”
“They could enjoy beauty, taste the delights of life without a pang of conscience. So long as they were faithful to the laws and interests of the city they had no damnation to fear, either in this world or the next.”
PS. I had to erase a few insulting comments to this post. They were written by some commentators from the UK. I ask for pardon if I have offended somebody, it was not my aim, really.
My style is sometimes aggressive but I am fond of the British people. I wouldn’t have toiled so much to learn their language decently enough.
The main idea behind this post is the fact (an historical fact, no doubt) that the people from the Italian peninsula (and elsewhere) were civilized long before Christianity arrived.
By civilization we refer to something distinguished from culture (see a discussionon it)for the reason of a higher level of complexity, a larger geographic locus, the presence of sophisticated urbanisation etc.
This fact, the existence of a pre-Christian high-level civilization – the Greco-Roman – may have engendered cultural differences (alive yet today) vis-a-vis cultures who mostly reached a ‘fully civilized’ stage together with (and thanks to) Christianity.
Such differences may regard survivals of the Roman religion in Italy and elsewhere – traces which scholars recognize and which Protestants, it is known, always tried to eradicate. They may also regard, why not, sexual behaviours as well.
Did scholars research on these difference? If so, how far they went? We do not know, our research on roman-ness being a knowledge journey.
See the comments area for further information.
As for the expansion of the Greco-Roman ‘civilization’ toward North-West Europe: