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.]

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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?

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Roman Jews (2). ‘Segregated In The Ghetto Because Of Their Own Guilt’

[see The Roman Jews (1)]

A millenary presence

There’s evidence of the millenary presence of the Jews in the city. Of the over 40 imperial Rome catacombs unveiled 6 are Jewish. At the end of the catacomb period a Jewish cemetery rose around Porta Portese. We also know of at least one synagogue in Ostia antica and of several in Trastevere.

The arch of Titus is also an indirect sign of presence. The Roman generals in triumph were usually followed by the captives in fetters, although on one arch panel we see only the head of the procession – but someone says it shows also prisoners – with the riches looted in Jerusalem, among which the seven-branched menorah.

The Menorah carved on the Arch of Titus. Detail from a copy of the original arch panel. Click for larger picture and credits

By the way, where is the splendid gold menorah gone? Oh so many speculations and legends flourished! [see Lanciani at the foot of the page]

From both Josephus and the panel we guess it was brought to Rome, then possibly kept in the Temple of Peace until the Vandals stole it in 455 AD.

One legend is told by Giggi Zanazzo (1860 -1911), our source on Roman culture written in the Roman dialect (full text):

“The candelabrum we see carved under the arch of Titus was all in gold and was brought by the ancient Romans to Rome from Jerusalem, when this city was sacked and burned by them. It is said some turmoil occurred and they came to blows when someone tried to steal it. Since they happened to pass over the Quattro Capi bridge [pons Fabricius – see below – the most ancient bridge surviving, built in 62 BC] it was thrown into the river so nobody had it and the water now is enjoying it.”

Pons Fabricius, also called Quattro Capi, is the most ancient bridge in Rome (62 BC.) It connects the Tiber Island with the Jewish ghetto. Click for credits

It was said that under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, but the Pope refused fearing that stirring up the mud would generate the plague [Lanciani.]

Did the Jews live so long with the Romans that some paganism brushed on them? Zanazzo writes that the Holy Mary was evoked in ways that remind me of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth:

“When the Jewish women are about to give birth, during the hardest labour pains, in order for their childbirth to be successful, they ask our Madonna for help. When all is finished quickly and well they get a broom and sweep the floor saying: “Fora, Maria de li Cristiani (out, Mary of the Christians).”

4th century AD. The Tiber Island with pons Fabricius leading to the left bank and the D-shaped theatre of Marcellus. Behind, Porticus Octaviae big rectangle

From the right to the left bank

Since they had arrived to Rome the Jews had mainly lived on the right bank of the Tiber, in the Transtiberine district, where the harbour was.

After Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics (from the 16th century on) and an epoch of religious fanaticism began, the Jews were forced to settle down on the left river side, in a district called rione S. Angelo [see above the area at the times of emperor Constantine; see below as it is today.]

On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a Bull that cancelled all the rights of the Jews and segregated them in a walled area, il Serraglio delli Hebrei, as it was called (i.e. the ghetto,) an unhealthy place subject to floods and too small for its inhabitants.

The Fabricius bridge leading from the Tiber island to left bank and the ghetto (rione S. Angelo) with its synagogue. Click for credits and larger pict

The ghetto: ‘Condemned for their fault’

Heavy gates were kept open only from sunrise till sunset.

The Bull Cum nimis absurdum took its name from its first words. It decreed that the Jews had to be separated from the rest ‘through their own fault’ [Latin, propria culpa]:

“Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault [e.g. having caused the death of Christ] were condemned by God to eternal slavery, have access to our society and even may live among us […] we ordain that for the rest of time […] all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”

The Bull encouraged the creation of walled ghettos in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

More than 3 centuries later part of the Roman ghetto was demolished after Italy’s unity in 1870. Among the disappeared places was via Rua, where the most prominent Jewish families lived.

Well, if this was a sort of main street, one has an idea of the poverty of the entire place! Look at this watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (ca 1880 .)

Tormented cohabitation

The Jewish obstinacy in keeping their own traditions increased the mistrust of the Christians. Constrained since centuries to be second rate traders, they were additionally impoverished by segregation, which added to the idea that God had punished them. All this favoured humiliation and violence.

“The men had to wear a yellow cloth (the “sciamanno”)- we read in the Wiki – and the women a yellow veil (the same colour worn by prostitutes). During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. […] Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons in front of the small church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, just outside the wall.”

We have to say that strictness in Rome was always tempered by the laxity and good-nature of its inhabitants. The yellow colour often became indistinguishable, some covert movements were possible, hate or mistrust were not seldom replaced by warm solidarity. Moreover the Roman people, popes included, needed the arts of the Jews – the astrology & medicine they had learned from the Arabs, and their trade skills.

There were never pogroms in the city, like elsewhere in Europe. And never the Jews from here were tempted by another diaspora.

In short, they were tolerated. So they remained in Rome.

The Roman Jewish ghetto in October 2004. Click to enlarge and for credits

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Note. For an in-depth analysis of the Jews’ presence in ancient Rome see the 6th chapter from the splendid Rodolfo Lanciani’s New Tales Of Old Rome (1901) [full text].

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See the previous installment:

The Roman Jews (1). Are They the Most Ancient Romans Surviving?

See also:

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews
A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (2). Is a Roman ‘Race’ Surviving?

Against Child Sexual Abuse

Elaan is a NGO dealing with Child Sexual Abuse issues

A note of support for what our Indian blog friends Amith, Poonam and others are doing against child sexual abuse, a tragedy occurring all over the world. Poonam has written several posts about this topic (here is one) observing that “writing about a issue is only the first step toward awareness. But acting on the solution is the most important next step.”

And Amith has in fact moved into action through this NGO, Elaan, and the Elaan blog. You can visit these places to show your support.

(The Elaan image – which I had to cut a bit – has been designed by Arkoprovo Mukherjee)

Keep Violence in the Mind

Orion Pictures 1991. Hannibal-Hopkins. Fair use

“Keep violence in the mind where it belongs.” (Brian Aldiss, English Science fiction writer). And it is good that this and other things be left in the mind only. There is nothing wrong about having non ordinary fantasies, psychologists keep on telling us. But where does the line between imagination and action reside?

I look with some suspicion at violent TV serials like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), especially because so many teenagers are crazy about them, not to mention films like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Hannibal (2001). Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novels and played by the great British actor Anthony Hopkins (as Hannibal Lecter: picture above taken from here), these two movies are excellent, which makes it all even worse, I believe.

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Years ago a serial killer was captured. When asked how he had been capable of committing such horrendous atrocities on such a large number of people, he replied:

“It all started with violent movies and violent cassettes…”

Italian version

Pleasure in Craft. The Germans

Germany. Cologne Cathedral. Creative Commons License

The Germans like to do things well and feel pleasure in their craft. It comes out in everything they do. They are far away from the utilitarian attitude typical of the Anglo-Saxon, who works hard but most of the time has practical goals in mind, money and commerce being not seldom among them.

We will not mention the somewhat revealing episode (I do hope I recall well) of Heinrich Heine – one of the greatest German Romantic poets – and his totally puzzled reaction the first time he visited London in the first half of the 19th century, such a great city London (at that time the more powerful place in the world) though in his view an exclusively trade-oriented centre, which kind of disgusted him.

Neither we want to get much into the concept that concentrating so often on practical stuff only, while it can surely provide tremendous intervention power (it really does) it can nonetheless narrow human experience, which presents a much richer potential.

Pretty nice opposition, the German and the British, providing such a complicated insight on the German soul of Europe (not only the German soul, but I do not want to be repetitive). An opposition that has undone Europe. Well, ok, today we won’t plunge into that.

Here just 3 examples that can illustrate what we mean about the Germans.

Computer Bild Logo

I. Minimum ex. ComputerBild, a PC magazine also translated for the Italian market. Inexpensive (only 1.5 Euros here,) highly reliable and rich with meticulous analyses, a small instance of handicraft devotion in a market, the publishing market, where garbage is increasingly dominating.

A 1999 Porsche 996 Carrera Cabriolet. Public Domain

II & III. Maximum exs. Cars made in Germany (above a 1999 Porsche 996 Carrera Cabriolet, picture taken from here) or the outstanding Deutsches Museum in Munich, Bavaria (Museum of Masterpieces in Science and Technology).

As for the third example, apart from the term Museum of masterpieces that already implies a lot, at the DM practically everything – from small-scale models to entire huge reconstructions (i.e. reconstructions of underground coal mines and all the technology involved) – has been fondly manufactured in touching laboratories where artisans, some of them advanced in age, work(ed) with so much devotion and amore. Of course, models are one thing, real machinery – small and enormous aeroplanes, entire ships etc. – another totally (and impressive) thing at the Deutsches Museum.

Deutsches Museum. Germany. Munich

Well, what is incredible here is that almost any kind of machine, plus theoretical (and factual) models so various, plus tons of other astonishing stuff can be watched, analysed (and admired) in this awe-inspiring Institution, one of the best places in Europe for Science and Technology (maybe in the world? Well, American Science Museums and Science centres are pretty impressive too, but I am not capable of any useful comparison.)

Here, S&T are obviously seen as potent tools capable of diminishing hunger, making life easier etc. This of course is so important, do not misunderstand me. Nonetheless, S&T are also seen with a work-of-art approach involving the above-mentioned devotional attitude, which is a totally different thing. Yes, it is a totally different thing, I have little doubts about it.

It is this quality, among others, this pleasure of doing everything so well, that finally makes the Germans excellent engineers and, I would say, outstanding constructors of no matter what.

Two associative examples, if you please:

1) they are constructors of absolutely breathtakingly complex musical structures (where minds not well equipped can easily get lost, or bored, which is exactly the same thing.)
2) They are constructors of equally breathtakingly complex and sumptuous philosophical palaces, the deepest in the West (where one gets even more easily lost unfortunately.)

So, what the hell is their secret then? I do not know, why the hell do you think I know. Well ok, among other virtues, I might guess they are endowed with patience, calm and inflexible perseverance. Plus this great capacity of toiling (and suffering) in silence, an imprint of true force and indubitable courage.

PS
I wonder why India has always attracted me, though probably it is too late to seriously delve into that much diverse and impenetrable depth. The depth you find in the beautiful eyes of many Indian women, both terribly sweet and unfathomable, where I could really (and hopelessly) lose my mind…

Aishwarya Rai. Bollywood star. Fair use

The Neapolitans & the Quiet Shoemaker

The Italian musicologist Massimo Mila was from Turin (northern Italy, under the Alps) and adhered to the philosophical school founded by the Neapolitan Benedetto Croce. This school engendered a large number of solid intellectuals and dominated the Italian intellectual scene for more than half a century: Piero Gobetti, Antonio Gramsci, Nicola Abbagnano, Attilio Momigliano, Massimo Mila, Giulio Confalonieri ecc. this list being very long. Giovanni Gentile, another influent Italian philosopher of that period was instead Croce’s peer, and Sicilian.

[I told you the Neapolitan Greek cousins of Rome were full of surprises: wonder why they had excellent philosophers and why southern-Italy thinkers like Croce (and Gentile) had this special connection with the Germans.]

Mila, in his inspired Breve storia della musica (Einaudi 1963 p. 144,) writes about Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest Western composer in my opinion:

“His immense musical production was put together with assiduous, methodical, quiet work, carried out with the scrupulous care of an artisan and conceived, without any pause, as service of God. Without any pause since, had Bach been a shoemaker, he would have made a boundless number of shoes to the great glory of God, all carefully crafted and finished off with scrupulous care”.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Discussion with readers

Very interesting comments (in my opinion) have been made on this post on the Germans. If you click down on “comments” you’ll follow holistic discussions among two lovely Indians and Man of Roma. Ashish especially, a young gifted man, and Poonam, a woman who talks little but whose words have weight.

Discussion about what?

Well, about: Bollywood, India, Europe, America, the UK, WW1, WW2, Europe’s decline, German tremendous virtues, Indian women’s eyes, China, Cindia, Great Britain’s awesome success, highly refined & beloved France, Hitler’s folly and death in a bunker, Hitler’s perverted sadism, Hitler’s evil psychological seducing powers, German tragedy, Italian Comedy, Mussolini and Fascism. Mussolini, his balls & his petty calculations, comparisons among the British the Germans the Russians the Romans (of course,) the French, the Spaniards. Plus Elisabeth I, Shakespeare & the Spanish Armada defeat, Russia invading Germany thirsty for blood, Tolstoy’s War and Piece greatness, Napoleon, the Brits’ greatness in some ways similar to the Romans’ greatness, the UK as Europe’s trojan horse, and much much more.

One friend of mine just said: “This is crazy!”

I provided no answer.

UNESCO World Heritage LIMES logo

PS
Let us first enjoy this J.S. Bach’s Toccata und Fuge BWV 565 played by Hans-Andre Stamm on the famous Trost organ in Waltershausen, Germany (have a look here). It is a very famous piece of music and I’d prefer other ones by Bach. But it is good for starting to appreciate a totally new spiritual world of sounds. Most of the time Toccatas are not as deep as Fuges.
Up to you to guess which is which.

Let us finally compare the majestic piece linked above with this electric-guitar improvisation by Lonn, a refined French man and guitarist of Towersound French band. He’s improvising on the above Toccata only, though improvisations being tricky, up to you to figure out if he sticks to the Toccata only.

Two last things. A. I met this French band just now on YouTube, so I do not know their value (the impro seeming to me decent enough though, and the French accent of the player absolutely delightful). B. Purists to me are morons. They absolutely have no home in my virtual Neverland.

Italian version

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow

Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Italian translation

“He felt alive with the thrill of the fight”: it is a typical discharge of adrenaline and the English expression “thrill of the fight” well depicts this sensation of feeling alive. Stress can in fact be one of the joys of life in that it can make us feel terribly vital.

A similar feeling can be experienced before (and while) facing an audience, something teachers and lecturers (or musicians and actors) know very well.

“Adrenaline (Epinephrine) is a fight or flight hormone which is released from the adrenal glands when danger threatens or in an emergency. When secreted into the bloodstream, it rapidly prepares the body for action in emergency situations…” (Wikipedia).

Adrenaline

Talking again of fight (more than flight) I have always fantasised about how Julius Caesar might have felt at nearly 50, while, often at the head of his soldiers, he was attacking the fierce and brave Gallic tribes and actually conquering Gaul, a region a bit larger than modern France, comprising “Belgium, the German lands west of the Rhine, southern Holland, and much of Switzerland”.

I am sure he felt this tremendous thrill who made him like a young man in his twenties, hormones being highly effective drugs (as any teenager well knows.)

Caesar had greatness in all he did (see one of his busts above) no matter what we can think about him.

Even his most exciting literary work, De Bello Gallico

“is a genuine historical treasure. Rarely are we fortunate enough to have historical accounts written by eyewitnesses. Caesar was not only an eyewitness, but the lead player. It’s as though we had accounts of Alexander’s campaigns written by Alexander himself. Or Charlemagne‘s life in his own words. And, not only is it a first-hand account, but it is brilliantly written. Caesar’s commentaries, whether of the Gallic campaigns or of the Civil War that followed, are considered masterpieces of Latin prose. The writing is concise and straightforward. Caesar’s writings are still used today to teach Latin.”
[quote from the Amazon web site]

Let me just add that Caesar’s words were clear and ordinate and comprehensible”. I mean, they were as crystal-clear as his rational mind and conduct were, probably the best specimen of Roman rationality ever appeared, different from Greek rationality: the Greeks taught the world to think more efficiently, but strangely enough they were much less rational than one might think.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

I will finish this post with the tragic picture of the sad surrender to Caesar of the Gallic hero Vercingetorix, by the French painter Lionel-Noel Royer (1852-1926).

Vercingetorix tried to collect sparse Gallic tribes in a fierce and desperate effort to both unify Gaul and to escape from the yoke of a technologically-superior, more civilized (and disciplined) superpower. To be noted that the Romans, in the painting, look barbarous and stupid, while Vercingetorix appears elegant and civilized, which seems typical of 19th century nationalism.

Vercingetorix though proved to have been an extremely noble knight and soul.

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. Public Domain image

Caesar had reasons for conquering Gaul that cannot be discussed here (see a list of related posts below).

What we can say, this tragedy having brought France into existence, we admit we enthusiastically adore the final result but we cannot forget all the sorrow and the atrocious price paid: 1 million people killed (according to Plutarch) – probably 1 out of 5 Gauls -, another million enslaved, 300 tribes subjugated and 800 cities destroyed (Plutarch;) last but not least, the quasi annihilation of the Gallic culture, to which we here pay our humble tribute.

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Note 1. The terms Gaul (Latin: Gallia, thence Gallus) and Celt (Celtus, Κέλτης) stem more or less from the same root. I have always thought – a personal opinion – that Galli is possibly how the Romans mispronounced the Greek term Κέλται, although they also used the terms Celti or Celtae preferred by the Greeks and probably derived from a native Celtic name.

The discussion on these words (and other Celtic stuff) is in truth immense and can provide an idea of how the descendants of the Celti are trying to fathom the mysteries of a culture almost totally wiped out by the Romans and other nations.

Waterloo Helmet

Why the Celtic heritage – not only in France – left so scanty traces? French (hence ‘Gallic’) Braudel is blunt: when a culture is erased by another culture, it means it was not so great in (relative) comparison [see some long comments on this topic in French].

Reversely, it is not by chance that the Romans deeply shaped the North West areas of their empire (eg Western Europe) while they less affected the East (and South) regions of it.

Additional infos on both the Celti and on the etymology of the term can be found in the Wikipedia, here and here.

Note 2.
In Book 5, Chapter 44, de Bello Gallico “notably mentions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman centurions of the 11th Legion. Vorenus and Pullo are dramatized as main characters in the 2005 HBO/BBC original television series Rome, a fictionalized account of Caesar’s rise and fall” (Wikipedia).

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Related posts:

Vercingétorix, le dernier roi des Gaules

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When West / North Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
[at the foot of this post three other installments on the same theme are linked]

Permanences. Rome and Carthage
France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)