GM Buffa’s novel. Leyla Lilith in action (not for minors), hold on tight (2)

Lilith, a demon of Mesopotamian origin (got into the Hebrew scriptures after the Babylonian captivity, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar II), is widely represented in art

Here’s the beginning of the novel (a bit of a cartoon at times, the unattainable model being The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père). I initially thought about inserting small titles in Latin for the whole length of the novel, then I gave up. This first part had the title Sed libera nos a malo, very appropriate in my opinion. The previous post explains a bit the philosophical structure of the work. Let us start, though (this translation is a draft).

Enjoy.

ψ

THE KNIGHT MOVE (temp. title)

1rst volume of the Trilogy THREE SIDES OF THE COIN

ψ

Rome, Parco degli Acquedotti, 5th May 2018. 9:30 pm

It was already half past nine in the evening. The arches of the Aqua Claudia battered by time rose as admonition to human arrogance. The weather was cold and cloudy despite the season and two teenagers, eighteen and fifteen years old respectively, got warmed up by the flame of youthful passion. Two hours earlier they had set off by motorbike from the Porta Capena, south-east of the Circus Maximus, and holding onto each other they had ridden slowly along a beautiful stretch of the ancient Appia way, the Regina viarum, along which stood the secular trees of the Roman countryside and the few sarcophagi not transferred to museums whose inhabitants, their faces worn down by the millennia, seemed to wonder about the destiny of humankind. In the distance, like placid stars wandering in the midst of the coming storm, airplane lights were visible landing and taking off from Ciampino airport.

The couple had lingered behind a bush at the foot of one of the aqueduct arches erected by the emperor who had conquered Britain. The Parco degli Aquedotti floated in silence now and then interrupted by the rumble of distant thunders and the murmur of tree foliage. The communities of Quadraro, Appio and Tuscolano together with the villas of the rich and famous around the ancient Appian way were busy with the rituals of family, friendship and of Roman dinners festive and endless. The girl’s dog, a black long-haired Belgian shepherd, kept whining faintly.

– Please Giuliano, no, I’m not ready … 

– C’mon Simona, you are not a loser like Francesca and Sara, are you?

The young man, a well-known dude from Quadraro, was always seen astride a vintage Ducati with shining chrome. Brown-haired and blue-eyed he loved to stop at a bar very popular with young people located in Largo Spartaco. Devoted to small trafficking as well as to the ancient art of seducing women of all ages and condition he clutched the fifteen-year-old at her waist with his left hand while slipping her panties off with his right. Simona, with junoesque breast and slender body, was one of the prettiest girls in the school whose gates were next to the bar frequented by Giuliano. She had big beautiful black eyes with shiny hair of the same colour. Her parents had strongly opposed her liaison with Giuliano but her crush was so strong they had continued to see each other in secret.

– No Giuliano, don’t my love, please … “.

The two bodies joined and both souls, voracious one, desperate with love the other, lost any sense of time.

Adam protects a child from Lilith who in the Mesopotamian tradition is caught up in lust and is a child kidnapper. Filippino Lippi (1406 – 1469), Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

ψ

It all happened too fast. Even the dog didn’t perceive anything.

ψ

The dancer’s gorgeous body was shaken by light tremors. Pitch-black hair fell on her shoulders in a thick mass of thin braids. Her oval face was dominated by elongated, pale-blue eyes whose expression was so disquieting as to inspire fear on anyone who had to do with her, her subordinates most of all who with archaic term called her Domna. She was naked except for a very thin thong the colour of night. Her muscular and perfectly shaped legs ended with exquisite, flexible and equally trained feet. Her toes as well as her hands, enamelled in the same colour as the thong, had a life of their own, almost tentacles of a malignant octopus that danced on the eighteen year old young man’s naked body whose mouth had been meticulously sealed first using tampons of a synthetic material interposed between the gums and the lips, then an insulating tape decorated with mysterious hieroglyphics. They danced and crept, the dancer’s sharp toenails, tormenting the orifices laid open on the face of the young man whose eyes, wide and incredulous, expressed horror.

The woman turned to her left and in the same way danced on the equally naked body of the girl shaken with sobs and with face flooded with tears. The young couple was tied up spread-eagled on a huge bed of four meters by four. Lying down side by side with respect to their tormentor the young people’s heads were turned and immobilized at the feet of the woman and their legs, fixed one to the ceiling and the other to the bed, were at the height of her raven head.

The majestic oak bed was placed at the centre of a large hall which, like the bed, emanated profusion. Fabrics, sofas, weird paintings as well as objects from any age and land were found everywhere and were arranged with a remarkable aesthetic taste. On the ceiling four large Murano chandeliers completed the furnishings. Yet the baroque luxury of the room did not communicate a sense of life but rather a sullen gloom made even more so by the fact that the vast hall was extremely damp. 

Faust and Lilith, by Richard Westall (1831). Faust is about to dance with the young witch at the Wizards and Witches festival, in the Hartz mountains

Leyla Lilith was lying on the bed between the two teenagers and had enough space to allow her to pirouette and dance at will. A cold, lucid, cruel dance which brought her to torment for long minutes the private parts of the young man who emitted muffled screams. Then at some point the fifteen-year-old, with her mouth sealed in the same way, could not bear the torture of her lover and gave herself to muted screams and to rash, foolish struggles.

The dancer then turned and with joined feet smacked her with unheard-of force at her groin. Though through the gag the young girl began to howl and here Leyla with calculated lust began to kiss and nibble at her opulent breasts while in comfort, using her sharp nails, she was busy tearing into several areas of her body.

When Simona’s cries faded a little – the poor teenanger was about to faint – Leyla woke her up with a bottle of acre scent then hit her a second time at her groin and went back to taking care of Giuliano. In the end, tired of the girl’s persistent reactions, she smacked her with joined feet in the head. The teenager uttered a short gasp and collapsed.The woman spun around as agile as a cat and projecting herself into the air fell elegantly on the floor. Then at a wave of her hand there appeared …

ψ

Constantinopolis, maius AVC MCCLXIII
Constantinople, early May 510 A.D

… two men and a woman clad with the colour of night. 

– I have to leave, unfortunately. You know what you have to do – she said with a frightening smile.

– What about the dog?

– It must follow the couple’s fate.

Then she left the huge arcaded place and climbed a narrow staircase known only to her which led to her luxurious apartments. There six slaves (three males and three females) greeted her with fearful reverence, undressed her and with bowed heads took her to a vast bathroom at the centre of which a large pool in polychrome marble released scented vapor. There they washed her with sponges from the Eritrean Sea and aromas from Syria, massaged her and finally perfumed her sweetly. Her face made up and then dressed up again with a beautiful veil of blue silk on her head and an equally blue stole studded with amethysts and tied at the waist by a belt with black pearls, Leyla Lilith went out of the bathroom and walked via a vast corridor into a huge hall. She sat down on a high armchair and waited for a while. The man was eventually announced.

– You’re late, Zenas – she said, looking at him with contempt.

– The journey was long.

There was fear in his voice. He cleared his throat:

– I had to sail to Italy, my Domna, and from there up to Britannia, beyond the Ocean. Thence I had to come all the way back …It’s not things that are done overnight.

– You know what happens to those who do not serve me well …

Zenas shuddered. Among the scars that disfigured his face shone the merciless gaze of the manhunter.  A large dark cloak with a large hood pulled down over his shoulders enveloped his stocky body. 

– Now tell me what you know.

– They’re about to arrive. One has already landed in Britannia and his friends want to locate him and bring him  back to Italy perhaps. My sources are trustworthy.

– Good. We have to make sure that they get lost in Hades or in Christians’ Hell. As for the one already in Britannia, He who is above me has a very special plan. Get all the men and resources you need. Money is not a problem. Should you fail I’ll take care of you personally.

The man startled but controlled himself. He emitted hoarse sounds:

– It will be done, my Domna.

He then left the hall hastily.

– There’s no time to waste – he said to himself –. I know who to recruit.

Still shaken by Domna’s gaze when a servant approached him and said that the horses were ready Zenas hit him for no reason. His eyes were full of hatred and fear. He needed someone to blow off steam.

– Those bastards in Britannia will horribly pay for all I have to suffer –, he said to himself with rancour. He let the servant guide him to the stables.

ψ

Leyla Lilith Domna returned to her apartments where she got dressed for the cold of the night. The may season was unusually cold and cloudy. She went out into the streets of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, accompanied by three sturdy charioteers bearing torches. The streets were less crowded at that time of night although the metropolis never slept. The sky looming above was streaked with lighting. She walked the colonnaded porticoes of the Mese, the main street of the city, and watched with a contempt mixed with joy the beggars who plagued the air and the mothers who sold their children to the pimps. She then proceeded in the direction of the acropolis, where the theater was located. In that place the ten-year-old Theodora and her older sisters, Comito and Anastasia, were about to entertain the spectators.

[to be continued]

GM Buffa’s novel. “There are male and female cities, and Rome is female, is a woman” (1)

Some info about the novel via brainstorming. Documentation has been a big challenge. As I said to Marina Caserta, writer and blogger, “I too find documentation fundamental. My task was complicated by the fact that I set my novel in at least three different ages:

1) the age of the Flavian Dynasty, 69-96 AD
2) 510 AD in Britannia and a bit in Rome and Augusta Taurinorum (Turin).
3) Today’s Rome, in the rioni where I live. “

Although in the first volume of the trilogy (ie The three sides of the coin) I have developed only age 2) and 3). Let us see.

510 AD (and around). An extremely interesting period “when the ancient world – quoted from the novel – disintegrated into a unique catastrophic event, with the bubonic plague spread at the time of Justinian and Theodora [see Plague of Justinian, ndr], with the Late Antique Little Ice Age that created drought in the steppes and pushed the Huns on the Goths and the Goths on the Romans. To this, the arrival of Islam in the Mediterranean will soon be added, with these and other elements of destruction-innovation “.

Religion and philosophy are intertwined in this age of anxiety (interesting how ancient pagan philosophy, at its birth among the Greeks, was tinged with religion; then it went away from it by gradually reaching an atheistic rationalism – more or less (see Epicurus) – and eventually, in the above said age (well, much before that in truth), merging with religion again. Neopythagoreanism and Neoplatonism were interwoven (see later), with reincarnation and all that (reincarnation is at the core of the novel).

What we have here is that the theologian philosophers of the time mixed and polished the whole pagan paraphernalia (a fascinating mixture of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics etc.) in order to fight against Christianity which was about to triumph (in 510 AD the process was since long concluded although there were pockets of resistance).

I always thought that in order to recreate or describe the ancient world we should insert elements of the mentality of that time, among which religion plays a big part. For example, historians imho often explain (therefore do not explain) why a certain army did not attack the enemy (even if in a favorable position / moment) with a ‘scientific’ or modern approach that has nothing to do with the real motivations of those ancient people. Julius Caesar, the most shining example of Roman rationality, perhaps, (to whom btw the Roman Jews who were favoured by him still carry wreaths at the foot of his bronze statue, in Via dei Fori Imperiali), Julius Caesar, I was saying, did sometimes very incautious, even crazy, things. Why? Was he an idiot? Well, wouldn’t say that lol. He simply believed he was blessed (baciato, kissed, in Italian) by goddess Fortune, not though as we say today but literally. An example, among many.

Human souls, heroes, demons, angels, gods, God (the hierarchy of powers or essences) etc. Inserting religion in my plot obviously meant inserting also beings ‘beyond man’ (man’s soul included since a divine spark is present in everyone’s soul) related to Good but also to Evil, heinous, absolute Evil. I had to sit through (but more often with great pleasure) various passages by Plutarch, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, the Stoics (very little Aristotle, apart from Thomas Aquinas who reverts to him) and what remains of the Pythagoreans – Pythagoras, like Socrates, having unfortunately written nothing.

Interesting how Christian philosophy, from Augustine onwards, follows pagan Neoplatonists (while during the Middle Ages it will concentrate on Aristotle, mainly). I also, as I said, refer to Thomas Aquinas a lot (1225 AD – 1274: very influential, before Reformation, throughout Europe) and to the way he depicts evil demons (there are good daimon’s too of course) in his Summa Theologica (which you can here read in the original, a reasonably easy Latin ) and which I have preferably read in the modernized, beautiful version by Walter Farrel OP & Martin J. Healy, My Way Of Life.

[Giorgio: “You are a bookworm, always with your nose on dusty pages”. Giovanni: “Shut the hell 🤬 up”]

Today, 2010 and 2018. I will talk about this age later. Here I conclude with a passage, more or less at the middle of the novel, in which Lilith, a female demon (Adam’s first repudiated wife, see Gen. 1:27), walks about today’s Rome (yes, essences beyond man, like the gods, and God, are timeless, and I was delighted while writing about that stuff. Here is also a bit of Thomas Aquinas’ vision, a sumptuous one).

NOVEL’S EXCERPT – LILITH

[A quick draft]

“Faces of Rome parading in the night, faces of men, women and children. Ancient & modern faces, naive cynical tough innocuous (and foreboding?). When one thinks of Rome (Goethe wrote) “two thousand years old and beyond, reflecting that it is the same soil, the same hills and often even the same columns and walls – and as for the people we spot traces of the ancient character – one feels intertwined with the great decrees of destiny”.
Destiny, with the movable facial expressions of Roman women bearing witness to it. Since women, in Rome, are important, very important. Federico Fellini, the Rimini director, said that there are male and female cities, and Rome is female, is a woman.
And, speaking of women, ancient women (those that interest us), we think not only of mothers grandmothers or women with or without a partner but also of whores who Federico Fellini loved so much, those around the Archaeological Walk, to be clear, around the Baths of Caracalla (via Antoniniana and viale Guido Baccelli, for instance).

Image by Brenkee, Pixabay

Among these street women, or lupae, as our ancestors called them, one apparently looks tired, tonight, while she walks along the roads indicated above. The ruins of Caracalla are illuminated and the city’s humours ascend to the moonless sky . The woman’s face is the most ancient of them all since it is timeless and the torn black dress & the bag that dangles and almost rubs against the pavement does not improve her appearance. Pitch-black hair fall on her shoulders in a thick mass woven with thin braids. Her oval face is dominated by elongated eyes of a pale blue that, were it not for the darkness that hides them, would appear for what they are, dreadful.

The prostitute notices a motorcycle with two blondish young males and turns her head to the other side.

– Hey, did you see that one? – says the one driving –. Kinda pathetic but look at her body …

– She might stink though – says the second.

– Let’s have a look at her face.

The two are twenty-year-old, more or less. The one at the front says:

– Hey mora [ie brunette, ed], show us your face. How much? You gotta car?

She turned around a bit, her face still hidden. Then, with an intolerable, shattering voice, froze them:

– GET LOST! – as if they were worms (or insects) –. I don’t sell my body tonight. Wanna just enjoy the cool night breeze.

Like mad moths the two youngsters shoot away zigzagging and by a hair’s breadth miss the trunk of an Roman umbrella pine tree.

Ψ

Leyla Lilith Domna is full of contempt when the two humans, who she consider rubbish, disappear into the night. She then turns her gaze towards the Caelium hill, to Monti and to the Esquiline hill [the rioni where the action from today’s Rome takes place, ed], her look full of hatred, resentment. Finally as if by magic, a gloomy magic, she too disappears into the dark”.

[to be continued]

Saw Bacchus in Wenzhou

Chinese dishes (fair use)

A few days ago (sept 2007, traduzione italiana) our bunch of friends decided to have a Chinese dinner at our home. Everyone loves Chinese cooking. This food is of course not a novelty any more even here, but since while getting better it keeps being incredibly cheap, we still eat it a lot and like it (a lot.)

Advised by the youngest of us all I therefore went to this Chinese restaurant close by, located at the end of Via Cavour, not far from Via dei Fori Imperiali. I ordered a take-away meal for 8. I had never been there before. Wow was I surprised by the place and by the people!

The restaurant was elegant enough. I admired the professionalism, dynamism and hard working style that reigned in the place, everybody being so serious and dedicated.

A big family clan, I believe, with all ages being present: male teenagers serving tables; middle-aged women organising, calculating, pinning small sheets of purple paper to the wall; young sweet-looking women serving too, clad in traditional silk dresses with fine motifs on them; a man who I think was the husband of one of the older women and apparently the boss; the eldest woman finally, white-haired, the grandmother definitely, who worked hard at the counter despite her age, so incredibly attentive to all that happened and typing the bills on the counter keys with solemn vigour.

I smiled at her and she smiled back. Romans are good-natured but they have some difficulty in understanding such closed-up and reserved people who nonetheless, when they feel one doesn’t perceive them as aliens, quickly respond. I told her I had a few friends from China and asked her what town they came from, what type of Chinese language they spoke, whether their language was Cantonese- or Mandarin-related. She said that their speech was related to none of them, that it was an entirely different language. The way she said it revealed she enjoyed answering to me even though it was not apparent (although I felt it clearly.)

She then said they all came from Wenzhou, which (I later learned) is a town in the south-eastern Zhejiang province residing “on the Ou Jiang delta, with picturesque buildings and surroundings. The port (…) very active in the 19th century (tea export) was later used for fishing only” (La Piccola Treccani). Thence the emigration to foreign countries of large portions of these active people with “a reputation for being an enterprising folk who starts restaurants, retail and wholesale businesses in their adopted countries.”

Wenzhou. Such a difficult word I remember only because the guy got close – the one I thought to be the boss – and was so pleased to write it down for me, and he asked me if I was a real Roman, and I said yes, I am a real Roman, and after a while I realised ALL of them suddenly knew this Roman had an interest in them. They sort of suddenly knew I was sympathetic.

Mifu’s Chinese calligraphy. Public domain

Someone probably overhearing the said conversation and exchanging quick Chinese whispers they all were immediately aware of everything getting immediately hidden-attentive, hidden-agreeable, while two young men prayed me several times to please sit down while waiting for my package (till I finally accepted) and offered me for free this unbelievable Chinese H-bomb liquor (of which I drank three shots.)

I felt this quasi imperceptible attention, these good vibes in the air despite their not showing it much. Chinese people are delicate, steel-strong, intelligent and – I must gather – telepathic, while most of the people here consider them a totally indecipherable marble-faced folk – funnier than stone-faced, it being a joke I have with some Hong Kong IT students: I tease them, they tease me back.

Oh such a lovely lovely evening it was! My fantasy was flying high, this nitro-glycerine booze being not totally guiltless.

And then – like a sudden cool breeze coming from nowhere … I looking at the paintings around … looking at the smiling faces around – I clearly felt like the presence of a God as my sight began to blur …

Dionysus, Louvre (© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5)

At home our Chinese dinner was a success. It went on and on as only Roman dinners can go (for hours,) mixing both Chinese and Italian dishes washed down with an icy Italian white this time though, a tuscan Galestro not at all bad.

I didn’t bring any of the Chinese H-bomb though (meeting Gods too often can be a problem beyond a doubt.) I in fact know I owe that stuff a brief, intense encounter with Bacchus-Dionysus (son of Semele and Jupiter) in that Wenzhou restaurant and in the cool open air outside, a place right at the border of the ancient Roman Subura.

While actually my sight slightly blurred within the restaurant I remember I was gently given my take-away meal.

Moments later I was driving back home with my motorbike, winding and winding like a crazy birdie, fresh crisp air on my ecstatic face.

Rome, the eternal loose woman, imperial, magnificent, was smiling all around.

Colosseum. Fair use

New Manius Papirius Lentulus’ Chapter Posted over at ‘Misce Stultitiam Consiliis’

Two ancient Roman women. A Latin (left) and a Romano-Celtic (right). A work by the Victorian painter A. Tadema, 1893. Click for a magnificent view of it

A new Manius’ chapter has just been posted over at Misce Stultitiam Consiliis, MoR’s new blog.

[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.)

Man of Roma, Christmas 2008

 

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.)

Time now to hit the sack. Good night.]

Ides of March, Paul Costopoulos’ Birthday (and Paul’s Second Name is not Caesar)

Paul Costopoulos, the wise man of our little blogosphere slice. Courtesy of PC

Today it is the “Ides of March” or Idus Martii, a date famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar and an ancient festivity as well dedicated to the god Mars or Ares, the Greco-Roman deity of war.

Well, not only of war since (to the Romans only) such god was also an agricultural guardian.

March (Italian Marzo, Latin Martius) is the month named after Mars. Festivities in honour of Mars began in fact in such a year period in Ancient Rome and inaugurated the military (and agricultural) season.

They were then held again in October which ended the military campaigns and the farming activities – well, more or less since olive oil (called by Homer “liquid gold”) had still to be made because olives matured through the winter.

ψ

This is not though a post about war, farming or about Caesar.

Except for war we care about the said things. But a lot more we care about Paul Costopoulos, our Canadian sage.

Of both Greek and French descent (a potent mix) everybody likes Paul. He is endowed with wisdom, concrete knowledge of life and that emotional intelligence – as Dafna put it – that has made discussions wherever he goes interesting, humorous (and warm.)

ψ

Paul is 80 today.

Happy birthday friend.

 

Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (2)

Saint Agatha’s festival in Catania, Sicily. Patron Saint of Catania, her festival is one of the biggest in the world. Courtesy of Pietro Nicosia. Click to zoom in.

Italian translation

Patron Saints & Areas of Patronage

As we wrote at the end of part 1 Roman polytheism based on a “departmental idea of divinity” – ie on specific deities helping people in specific aspects of human life – seems to survive today in the veneration of saints.

Nothing provides a more vivid idea of such polytheistic survivals than the lists of patron saints and their respective areas of patronage.

Patron saints are special saints who intercede to God for us in certain life situations. They are such either by the will of the Pontiff or by tradition.

A couple of these lists (for almost-once-century-ago Spanish and Italian peasants) I had seen in Gordon J. Laing’s Survivals of Roman Religion book (1931), which is guiding us a bit in this journey.

So revealing such lists looked to me that I searched around the web for more up-to-date catalogues.

Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Today’s saints’ lists appear even richer and incredibly detailed!

(I wonder why)

San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples

Saints’ Help with Hangovers, Snakes and AIDS

Very comprehensive is the Saints.SQPN.com web site, with 7,140 saints and 3,346 areas of patronage covered (check also AmericanCatholic.org and Catholic Online.)

Here just a fraction of what you can find at SQPN.

Animals. Apart from saints protecting cities and countries [for ex. Agatha is patron saint of Catania – see the image at the posting header -; or Gennaro, of Naples, see above] there are saints protecting against dog bites (Walburga, Hubert of Liege), snakes (Paul the Apostle), bees (Ambrose of Milan, Bernard of Clairvaux); or protecting cattle (Brigid of Ireland, Nicostratus), dogs (Rocco, Vitus), poultry farmers (Brigid of Ireland), salmons (Kentigern) and even swans and whales (Hugh of Lincoln and Brendan the Navigator respectively).

Education. There are saints for teachers (Cassian of Imola, Catherine of Alexandria, Francis de Sales, Ursula, Gregory the Great) and there are saints for students (Albert the Great, Isidore of Seville, Jerome, Ursula, Thomas Aquinas).

There is even a saint for test takers (!), Joseph of Cupertino.

Health. Any health problem has its specific protectors: angina pectoris (Swithbert), arthritis (Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Colman, James the Greater, Killian, Totnan), autism (Ubaldus Baldassini), hangovers (Bibiana), headache (Acacius, Anastasius the Persian, Aurelius of Riditio, Bibiana, Hugh of Grenoble, Teresa of Avila), breast cancer (Agatha of Sicily, Aldegundis, Giles), diabetes (Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus), depression (Amabilis, Bertha of Avenay, Bibiana, Dymphna, Moloc of Mortlach), epilepsy (Alban of Mainz, Balthasar, John Chrysostom, Valentine of Rome), lunacy (Alban of Mainz, Balthasar, John Chrysostom, Vitus, Willibrord of Echternach) and so on.

The flower crowned skull of St Valentine exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Click for credits and to zoom in

There are saints for AIDS care-givers (Aloysius Gonzaga) and saints for AIDS patients (Aloysius Gonzaga, Peregrine Laziosi, Therese of Lisieux).

Family. Difficult marriages are taken care of (so many protectors, I’ll just mention Catherine of Genoa, Dorothy of Montau, Edward the Confessor, Philip Howard, Thomas More, Radegunde) and so are divorced people (Fabiola, Guntramnus, Helena). We have  saints for childless couples (Anne Line, Catherine of Genoa, Henry II, Julian the Hospitaller), for unmarried men and unmarried women, plus those who protect against the death of children, the death of fathers, of mothers, of both parents; saints against spouse abuse, incest, abortion and so forth.

If This Was Polytheism, Why Was It Tolerated?

As Ernest Renan (1823 – 1892), French philosopher and writer, once observed:

A saint’s arm bone, from the Cloisters section of the MET, NYC. Photo by Lichanos. Click on the image to reach Lichanos’ writing.

Every person “who prays to a particular saint for a cure for his horse or ox or drops a coin into the box of a miraculous chapel is in that act pagan. He is responding to the prompting of a religious feeling that is older than Christianity …” [quote from Laing’s book]

If this is even partly true why the leaders of Christianity, who certainly disliked polytheism, allowed such survivals of the older religions?

Polytheism (of any kind, not only ancient Roman) was probably too ingrained a religious attitude for Christianity to be able to root it out. So certain doses of syncretism (ie combinations, compromises) were the price the founders of Christianity had probably to pay in order to Christianize the unsophisticated pagi (ie rural districts of the former empire, thence the term paganus, pagan), together with the folks in the far outposts of the Roman world or right outside it.

[See a comment by Lichanos on this point. As for pagans as rural people, the word ‘heathen’ in English is probably a derivative of Goth haiþi ‘dwelling on the heath’: see the Etymology dictionary; and German Heide indicates both ‘pagan’ and ‘heath’]

“It may be that the founders of Christianity – argues Gordon J. Laing – found that the belief of the people especially the illiterate class in these specialized spirits of minor grade was one of their greatest problems. They recognized the people’s predilection for spirits that would help in specific situations, and they realized also that the masses felt more at home with beings who, while of divine nature or associations, were not too far removed from the human level.
They were keenly interested in winning the pagans to the faith and they succeeded. But undoubtedly one element in their success was the inclusion in their system of the doctrine of the veneration of Saints.”

The Holy Right, or the hand of St. Stephen. St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. Click for attribution and for a bigger image

Veneration and Worship

Now veneration and worship are considered differently by the Church. Veneration is a lesser-degree adoration, while worship is due to God alone.

[Veneration of saints is accepted today, as far as I know, not only by the Catholic Church but also by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church and the Lutherans. Some of the saints mentioned above might belong to those churches too, hard for me to say]

Gordon J. Laing observed in 1931:

“The Church has never taught the worship of Saints […] but whether the peasants of southern Italy and other parts of Europe distinguish with any degree of precision between veneration and worship is another question. It is not likely that they do, and for those who are looking for evidence of the continuance of the creative power of Roman religion, the beliefs of the illiterate are of as much importance as the formulated doctrines of the Church. Our subject is not survivals of paganism in the modern Church but survivals in modern times.”

Roman Pompa vs San Gennaro’s Procession

Procession of San Gennaro in Naples. Photo by Antonio Alfano

We will finish our posting with a fascinating passage by Gordon J. Laing:

“The similarity in attitude of mind of pagan and Christian devotees and the survival of the polytheistic idea in modern times may be seen in a comparison of the behavior of the people who watched the procession which preceded the circus games in ancient Rome [pompa circensis was a grand procession before the games: read a description at LacusCurtius, MoR] and that of the crowd which fills the streets of Naples today on the occasion of the festival held in May in honor of San Gennaro [Saint Januarius,] the patron saint of the city.

In the old Roman procession a conspicuous place was given to the images of the gods that were borne along in floats; and as they were carried past, pious Romans called upon the names of those whom they regarded as their special protectors.

So too at the Naples festival. In the procession referred to the images of many Saints, each of them with his own place in the affections of the Neapolitan proletariat, are carried from the Cathedral to the Church of Santa Chiara. Saints of all centuries are there, some of whom attained the dignity hundreds of years ago, while others are more recent creations. As the procession moves along, persons in the crowd call out the name of their patron Saint, and when the image of San Biagio, a sort of Christian Aesculapius with special powers in diseases of the throat, passes by, the Neapolitan mothers hold up their croupy bambini and implore a remedy.”

San Gennaro’s blood venerated by the Neapolitans

[Note. Patron saints remind also of the practice of patronage in ancient Rome (see our post on Ancient patronage and clientage,) since beyond a doubt between the believer and the saint – exactly like between patrons and clients – there is like a sort of exchange: prayers and offers in exchange of favour and protection in certain areas of life.]

ψ

Related posts:

Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (1)

Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna
Survivals of Roman Religion
From the Goddess of the Fever to Our Lady of the Fever
Ex Votos in Italian-American Devotions

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

Arch of Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus
Arch of Titus Flavius Vespasianus at the Roman Forum. Click for credits and a larger picture

Lichanos
But I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!

MoR
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe [see below the ethnicity thing.]

Are they Roman, Jew or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears.

I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …

An irony? Roman-ness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.

I’ll try to explain this roman-ness concept the way I see it.

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

A. Being Roman in antiquity meant an ethnic thing only in early Republican times. With the late Republic and the Empire “Rome” and its territories became a huge melting pot, more or less like America today (Pompey had Celtic blood and Cato the younger had a slave among his ancestors.)

Very strong cultural traits [one can check ‘Romanitas’ in any history manual] were transmitted to Berbers, Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Gauls, Spaniards, South and West Germans, Romanians etc. Even the class of the emperors was multi-ethnic, and polytheism made every creed and religion accepted. Focusing on Rome only, it was additionally populated by so many slaves coming from anywhere that it is foolish to think in terms of a Roman “race” surviving today.

B. Being Roman today. As for Romanness today, I clearly feel connections between an ancient Roman and a Roman of today.

The ancient Roman populace progressively lost its simplicity, temperance and character. Even the poor were proud of living in Rome (the Jews were among the poor) and had ‘panem et circenses’ without any merit.

Privileged and spoiled compared to other folks they became bit by bit crass, indolent, cynical, blasphemous, braggart, with a couldn’t-care-less attitude towards anything.

They nonetheless retained bits of magnanimity, of a sense of universalism, and a good nature and compassion that comes from the ancient Romans (yes, the Romans were compassionate and had a good nature).

The Roman actor Aldo Frabrizi
The Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi, a modern Roman icon

Their vulgar Latin turned little by little into this loose modern dialect that is either loved unconditionally or hated in this country, and which can be terribly concise and abrupt. The true Roman – a species dying out – doesn’t speak that much, he is ironic, full of humour, and can knock you out with very few words, as the Calcagnis, my grandmother’s family, could do (and did).

We are all sons of the base empire a bit! But in our decadence there’s vitality and toughness – some old Romans look like lions and jump off the Tiber bridges even in their 70s.

The modern Roman verve is well depicted in *Carlo Calcagni’s memoirs*.

And, when Leone Limentani the Jew exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!”- it was a typically Roman (more than Jewish) scene [see the previous post for it.]

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews

A view of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1729-1778)
A view of Rome. Etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1729-1778). Click for credits and larger picture

The previous post on the Roman Jews had kicked off an interesting conversation with readers and especially with Lichanos on a theme central in this blog: Romanness past and present.

Huge topic, I know.

Lichanos’ energizing comments have though compelled me to clarify and integrate what I had in mind. I really thank ALL my readers for their contribution. Discussion helps to clarify and enrich lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (see my method post.)

My friend Mario has told me recently: “You are exploiting your commentatori”.

Roman-like, and using polite words in my translation, I told him he better shut his helluva mouth up.

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

MoR
So what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the era of the Flavian Emperors. Actually Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years!

Lichanos
I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!

MoR
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe.

Are they Roman, Jewish or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears. I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …

An irony? Romanness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.

Lichanos
Touché! The stereotype inverted! I was thinking it was ironic because Jews are usually thought of as the “other – not us” group, so it seemed ironic that they would be the most Roman. Of course the Jews are the most Roman, stands to reason given their history there…

MoR
Jews … usually thought of as the “other – not us” group
A bit being due to elements of the Jewish culture, people who see the Jews as aliens are either racist, stupid or narrow-minded (I’ll bypass the religious fanatics). Variety is what makes life interesting! Plus they are usually very intelligent, which is not bad these days.

Ψ

My personal take on Romanness has been pruned from the above conversation for the sake of readability. See the upcoming post for it. The Roman Jews (2) writing will soon follow.

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

A pro Euthanasia demostration before Italy's parliament in Rome

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

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

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

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

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t this an expropriation of our civil rights?

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

Ψ

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

Obsessive Engines. How Manias Help Us Shape Our Own Worldviews

Constantine's Roman Basilica in Trier, Germany
The huge Constantine’s Roman Basilica in Trier, Germany, used today as a Protestant church (courtesy of Dulcevisa). Click for source

Spontaneous philosophy

We have said in a previous post that all men are philosophers since everyone in the course of his/her life keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts that shape his/her unique conception of the world.

Therefore ‘philosophy’ is not such a weird thing that pertains only to a specialized category of professionals. It is on the contrary a natural feature of our species, exactly like talking or walking on two legs.

Inner motives help

There is another element I want to point out (since we mentioned it just briefly in the past.)

These concepts and their linking seem (at least to me) related to inner motives each of us keeps inside, unconsciously or not.

Such motives, often of biographical origin, are like filters that highly influence the way we see the world.

Everyone has his/her unique way of going through this thing, the uneducated and the educated alike, the unintellectual and the great pros of thought (traditional philosophers and scientist philosophers.)

ψ

Ancient-Rome fiends, for example, may filter out things accordingly. They can look at a Renaissance façade and notice only the Roman elements that were reinvented by Renaissance architects, the semi-circular (or triangular) arches of the windows, for instance, which they can mentally link to Rome’s Pantheon niches which probably hosted the statues of Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa.

I being one of those maniacs, when within the walls of a Roman Basilica I am seldom hit by religious feelings and am rather inclined to imagine business people and magistrates doing their jobs in ancient Rome. What I tend to see is in fact the public building the Romans utilized for business, markets and legal matters, and not the place of Christian religious cult Basilicas were converted into (when they were not created from scratch for this purpose by the followers of the new religion.)

[See above the huge Constantine’s Roman Basilica in German Trier, used today as a Protestant church (courtesy of Dulcevisa)]

Obsessions, themes, leitmotivs

What I mean is that we all have our obsessions, themes, leitmotivs. They not only greatly influence our view of things, on my opinion, but also tend to provide our ideas with some kind of order, thus helping us to become little or great philosophers.

Well, let’s face it, these manias may energize our ideas though this doesn’t automatically translates into real philosophical consistency, something one can reach only through toil (which is the work of the pro.)

These themes are evident in people we know well – close friends, family members, colleagues. We are aware of their fixations, which sometimes bore us to tears. It can be a father (or mother) figure obsession, a pervading mental escapism that comes out in many comments or behaviours, it can be anything.

Such leitmotivs are also present in the works of writers, musicians, scientists etc., although they are more complex to detect and it is the big part of a critic’s job to probe their works in search of elements which make the stylistic imprint of an author.

Had Rachmaninoff
a crush on a Muslim girl?

Just as an example, one reason why a melody by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is recognized as his and only his is this bizarre Arabic-scale leaning he had and that may related to some profound experience in his life.

It’s because he had Tartar ancestors? Was he desperately in love with a Muslim girl? I have to check – it might be for both reasons. I read somewhere he was in love with a Muslim girl and that he lost her for some reason. I may be wrong (plus I may sound mushy) but I couldn’t check this information in the books I have or in the Internet.

ψ

Let us in any case listen to one of Rachmaninoff’s orientalizing melodies from Piano Concerto N. 2, III, Allegro scherzando.

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

Related posts:

Sex and the Search for a Method

Books, Multimedia, E-learning
(though outdated in some parts it is much to the point)

Locking Horns with a Young Roman

More recent:

Devouring Passions