I am a man of Rome, Italy. Some of my ancestors, many centuries ago, were already citizens of Rome. So I guess I am a real Roman, or sort of, since some barbaric blood must unquestionably flow in my veins, Germanic probably and Gallic from the Alpine region.
My mother tongue is Italian, not very different from the Latin spoken by the common people at the times of the late Roman Empire.
The reason I am attempting to communicate in this Northern language – which I do not master entirely and which, though a bit chilly to my heart, I find not entirely deprived of charm – is that variety excites me like a drug and I am tired of talking mostly to my countrymen, this lingua franca, English, allowing me hopefully a wider exchange of ideas.
Why this blog
One reason, I have said, is wider communication.
But what can a Roman of today say to the world? Such a big statement (if there weren’t the Web to make it not entirely such.)
I think it is a great privilege to be born and to be raised here, such a special place, to the extent that something must have penetrated, something distinctive and worthy of being transmitted – in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.
I hope for comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.
Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European.
However, as she was already universal during the ancient Roman days, she has continued to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (*).
Religion will not be a central topic here (there excepting ancient religions, of course) since, greatly respecting all faiths I personally have none, being an agnostic.
I like to think that I am similar to those Romans of the past who counted mostly on knowledge and reason (the followers of Epicure, Ἐπίκουρος – one among many possible ancient examples.)
Three Reasons for Uniqueness
Ages have passed since this great city was the capital of the known world, this role now being played by New York, London or Shanghai, perhaps.
Rome is though unique in the first place because “among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – she is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village but rather finding herself often in the middle of world events and, equally often, paying for that a price (**).”
Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here and these roots are sacred – to me surely, and I think and hope to most of us.
These roots we have to rediscover in order to better open up to others in a new spirit of humanitas and conciliation (two chief components of the everlasting Roman mind.)
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new attitude which may enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes looming ahead which might cause our swift decline.
Lastly, Rome, the eternal city, is unique because she is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if not the most beautiful.
Beyond her imperial testimonies, her stupendous urban spaces and squares, even small piazzas and alleys radiate that “sacred aura” which comes from the millennia and to which ever increasing multitudes from every land come to pay their tribute.
The capital of our beloved and civilised French cousins, Lutetia Parisiorum (it’s how the Romans called Paris, after the Parisii, a tribe of the Gallic Senones,) was not but a village until the year 1000 AD. “1700 years younger than Rome! It shows, one can feel it (***).”
Fragments Sent in a Bottle
Scattered fragments of this special identity inserted in a bottle and sent across the Web: this shall be the activity of this blog.
The conveyor of the message is not so important in relation to the greatness of the source and to one ingredient this conveyor might, willingly or unwillingly, possess: he perhaps being like a fossil from a distant past which is dead though, astoundingly enough, alive yet in so many Italians.
Let us admit it. In some central and especially southern areas of this country, minds and habits survive that may puzzle foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards modernity appear evident. Are they only disadvantages?
All Things Considered
This and other topics will be discussed here by a 60-year-old Roman (2014: 66) whose knowledge can be located at a medium level, with interfaces towards the upper and the lower layers of knowledge.
He will try his best to transmit something useful to others (and to himself) having been an ancient-history & literature educator for 16 years, then converted to Systems Engineering & Training for the last 14 years.
He hopes this blog will allow him to brush up humanities back, which is daunting at his age (not to mention the crazy idea of blogging in English, Italian and bits of other languages.)
Sono romano, nato e vissuto a Roma. Alcuni dei miei antenati materni, fino a qualche secolo fa, erano già romani. Dovrei quindi essere un romano vero, o quasi, anche se dosi di sangue “barbarico” mi scorrono certamente nelle vene, sangue germanico, forse, ma soprattutto gallo-ligure della regione alpina occidentale.
La mia lingua materna è l’italiano parlato a Roma, idioma non troppo diverso dal latino parlato dalla gente comune ai tempi del tardo Impero Romano [il titolo del post è infatti sia latino tardo che romanesco, ndr].
Il motivo per cui mi sforzo di comunicare in inglese – lingua nordica non materna che mi fa un po’ freddo al cuore ma che trovo ricca e fascinosa – è la varietà che mi eccita come una droga e un po’ la stanchezza di comunicare solo con i connazionali, per cui la lingua franca del mondo spero possa aprirmi a un più vasto scambio di idee.
Perché questo blog
Un motivo, come ho detto, è la più ampia comunicazione. Ma come può un romano di oggi “parlare al mondo”?
[che frase pomposa, se non ci fosse il Web a renderla meno tale]
Sono convinto che sia un privilegio essere nati e cresciuti quaggiù, un posto talmente straordinario che qualcosa deve esser “passato”, qualcosa di distintivo e che valga la pena di trasmettere, per poter, a nostra volta, ricevere.
Spero dunque in un dialogo con occidentali e non occidentali, perché Roma e i Romani, nonostante i difetti (tanti), hanno una natura universale e mediatrice che proviene dal Mediterraneo.
Roma per certi aspetti è più mediterranea che europea.
Ciononostante, già universale all’epoca degli antichi Romani, essa ha continuato ad esserlo come centro religioso, come La Mecca o Gerusalemme.
Roma, dunque, va ben oltre l’Europa (2).
La religione non sarà un argomento centrale (a parte le religioni antiche), perché pur nutrendo un rispetto profondo per ogni fede personalmente non ne ho alcuna, essendo agnostico.
Mi piace, quasi in un gioco, immaginarmi simile a quei Romani del passato che contavano principalmente sulla ragione e sulla conoscenza (gli stoici e i seguaci di Epicuro, Ἐπίκουρος, per esempio).
Tre ragioni di un’unicità
Ere sono ormai trascorse da quando questa grande città era la capitale del mondo conosciuto, tale ruolo essendo oggi passato a Londra, New York e un domani Shanghai, chi lo sa.
1. Roma è però unica in primo luogo perché “fra tutte le più grandi città del mondo antico – Ninive, Babilonia, Alessandria, Tiro, Atene, Cartagine, Antiochia – è la sola che abbia continuato ininterrottamente ad esistere, mai ridotta a villaggio semi abbandonato, anzi, trovandosi spesso al centro di avvenimenti di portata mondiale e pagandone altrettanto spesso il prezzo (3)”.
2. In secondo luogo, il che è ancora più importante, Roma è la città dell’anima (così l’hanno sentita Byron, Goethe e Victor Hugo), è la città della nostra autentica anima occidentale, poiché l’Europa e l’Occidente sono stati plasmati qui (non nelle nebbie germaniche) e queste radici sono sacre – per me certamente, e credo e spero per la gran parte di tutti noi.
Tali radici andrebbero riscoperte per poterci aprireagli altri con nuovo spirito di humanitas e conciliazione (due componenti essenziali dello spirito romano eterno).
Dobbiamo insomma, noi dell’Occidente, incoraggiare atteggiamenti nuovi [e non beceri, ndr], che ci permettano di affrontare meglio sia l’attuale crisi di valori sia i cambiamenti radicali che incombono [miliardi di persone in rapidissimo sviluppo in Estremo Oriente ecc. ndr] e che potrebbero causare il nostro rapido declino.
3. Infine Roma, la città eterna, è unica anche perché è una delle più belle città del mondo, se non la più bella.
Al di là delle testimonianze imperiali, dei grandi spazi urbani e piazze, meravigliosi, certo, anche vicoli e piazzette emanano quell’ “aura sacra” che proviene dai millenni e a cui la gente di tutto il mondo porge in misura crescente il suo tributo.
La capitale dei nostri amati e civilizzati cugini francesi, Lutetia Parisiorum (così i Romani chiamavano Parigi, dai Parisii, tribù dei Galli Senoni) non era che un villaggio fino all’anno 1000 dopo Cristo. “Millesettecento anni meno di Roma. Si sentono, e si vedono” (3).
Frammenti in bottiglia
Frammenti sparsi di un’identità speciale inseriti in una bottiglia e lanciati nel mare del Web: questa l’attività del blog Man of Roma.
Il latore del messaggio conta poco rispetto alla grandezza della sorgente e di un ingrediente che lo stesso latore potrebbe, volente nolente, possedere: l’esser cioè una sorta di fossile di un passato che certo è morto ma è anche enigmaticamente vivo in molti di noi italiani.
Ammettiamolo. In aree centrali e soprattutto meridionali del nostro paese persistono abitudini, mentalità (e altri aspetti della cultura) che lasciano perplessi non pochi stranieri: residui storici i cui svantaggi nei confronti della modernità sono evidenti.
Sono solo svantaggi?
Questo e tanti altri temi verranno discussi da un romano quasi 60enne [70enne, oggi, ndr] le cui conoscenze si collocano a un livello intermedio, con interfacce verso gli strati superiori e quelli inferiori della cultura.
Egli spera di trasmettere qualcosa di utile agli altri (e a sé stesso) avendo insegnato per 16 anni Storia antica e Letteratura nelle scuole superiori per poi, negli ultimi 14 anni, rivolgersi all’ingegneria dei Sistemi informatici e alla formazione aziendale.
Egli si augura che un Weblog (o blog) lo aiuti a rispolverare gli interessi umanistici, il che desta affanno con gli impegni e gli anni che avanzano (per non parlare della follia del doppio blog, in inglese e in italiano).
Se non la profondità della conoscenza egli potrebbe tuttavia godere di un plus (da dimostrare) nei confronti di commentatori stranieri sia pur cresciuti in aree un tempo province dell’Impero Romano.
Il plus del testimone di quaggiù.
Il vantaggio di esser “(H)omo de Roma”.
Note (1) Il blog Man of Roma / A quirky research on Roman-ness durò 7 anni, ora è chiuso ed ebbe un discreto successo e moltissimi accessi (quasi 700.000). Se aveva, che so, 4 mila pagine di articoli, ricevette molto più di 15.000 pagine di commenti (tra cui i miei). Farò un conteggio esatto.
An interesting discussion over the dangers menacing our democracies was kicked off by our latest post “Will Fascism Come Back? Easy, a Bit is There Already.”
Most participants asked themselves whether democracy is at a turning point in many countries.
I am fortunate to have such great commentators. I’m also glad I received additional insight on the American mind I always found fascinating also because elements of it are not that easy to be grasped by Europeans (the collectivism vs individualism thing, for example.)
I’ll freely transcribe here a few sentences of the said dialogue where the dear-to-me topic education in a democracy stands out a bit.
The idea behind this is a follow-up post on a work experience I had in Russia where I was sent in the year 2000 in order to carry out a TACIS* financed educational project for the integration of military personnel into civil society.
It seems very much to the point since it regards the topics discussed in the said conversation, ie individualism, collectivism, education in democracies or in flawed (or almost non existent) democracies.
[*TACIS was a programme financed by the EU for “grant-financed technical assistance to 12 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia”]
MoR: Is fascism coming back in a way or another? We see “the contempt for the composed reason replaced by the reason of those who shout louder, by the hubbub that rages every evening in the televised debates etc.”
Paul:I’m afraid [fascism] has never been very far below the surface. [Paul’s blog]
Douglas: “I cannot think of any true democracies. Republics, yes, but democracies, no. [Douglas’ blog]
MoR: I agree. Demo-cracies are often aristo-cracies, ie the rule of the happy few. There is in fact a prerequisite imo for a democracy to work correctly: a solidly educated people. Without such prerequisite, demo-cracy degenerates into dem-agogy, ie a rule manipulative of the people via their emotions, fears, bias etc. The health care debate in America is an example of that I presume. Berlusconian Italy a much bigger one.
Andreas: Nobody actually fears fascism will win in America. But the rancor, the shrillness, the animosity obscuring reason and thought: that is everywhere. [Andreas’s blog]
Cheri:On both sides of the aisle, I might observe. [Cheri’s blog]
[Everybody seems to agree that it is not a Left or Right thing. The attack to freedom after all has historical roots in political ‘churches’ of any colour, and often in churches tout court (and, alas, especially in one Church)]:
ZeusIsWatching: Fascism is the kissing cousin of communism, the similarities are clear enough. [Zeus‘ blog]
Sledpress: Fascism [will live] with us as long as authority and submission are considered vital components of human culture … conditioning from birth onward … [cult of] “strong leadership” … We’ve all seen people bounce from Catholicism to Communism or whatever. [Sledpress’ blog]
Douglas: [he gets back to the educational thing] Do you really believe, MoR, that any country will produce a solidly educated people? …I think that as long as education is in the hands of the government ….there will only be people educated to support that government.
MoR:I understand America is suspicious of any state intervention in society …continental Europe, and possibly French Canada, have a rationalist, non empiricist, tradition (‘reason’ moulds society or kinda) so that a state should be ethical enough to try help the ‘losers’ of societal Darwinian competition, ie the poor, the uneducated etc
Portions of the sotosay winners’ income – a widespread mentality here, not necessarily leftist – should go to the less wealthy, without condoning tho those who take advantage of such a system (many of course do, tons of money gets wasted to the extent of foolishness).
While (almost) not spending a euro I have an excellent medical care, I myself once was a state school teacher trying to do something for the uneducated in the poorest districts of Rome.
And in Russia, a great but nightmarish place where I worked in 2000 (a moment when ALL was crumbling down there,) the masses were nonetheless amazingly educated in S&T and were reading Tolstoy, Pushkin in second class trains. Education didn’t save them from many forms of tyranny, big and small, which they accepted as their tradition, but I’m sure after these 10 years they are still bearing their tyrannies but must have copied the worst from us and are now reading crap in trains as well, as we do in moronic Berlusconian Italy.
Ana Téran: [a Mexican writer I just met at Andreas’.] Public will is a powerful weapon. Why in the hell don’t we use it MoR?
Lichanos: The “masses?” I wonder what percentage of people were reading Tolstoy and Pushkin. On the other hand, I meet lots of technically educated Russians who are surprised to find that I, an American engineer, know their history and literature, as they know ours. So, clearly there is a difference. [Lichanos’ blog]
The final twist of the conversation brings me then to talk about Russia a bit. A marvellous (but puzzling) place from any point of view. See you soon then.
[The 3 posts below illustrate – with really ample discussions – the notion of ‘personal knowledge’ related to what I mean by ‘solid education’, ie specialisation plus general knowledge. There is for example a difference (diminishing, alas) between the Latin countries plus Germany and Austria, on one hand, and the Anglo-Saxon countries on the other hand.
As Magister wrote, before the young are inserted into specialised activities they should first attain “a certain amount of maturity, of capacity of autonomy, orientation, initiative.” The last 30 years have seen in Italy the debacle of any effective education – both the Left and the Right having responsibilities, but Berlusconi added a big cherry on the pie by the propagation of a degrading culture in which he sincerely believes, it seems. I invite you all to get a copy of Videocracy. Here is the film’s official web site.
We had good ‘general culture’ orientation according to Italian traditions (but less specialization, a flaw, ok,) but now we have none of the two. AND Berlusconi has now convinced many Italians that priority num 1 is a reform of the constitution that will give him the power of a French (or American) President withoutany French or US counterbalance. And the economy? And unemployment? If this is not manipulation ….]
Being ‘cultured’ – we discussed – does it make any sense today? Why does it call up “stuffy, out-of-date rich people in drawing rooms?” in the English-speaking countries (Lichanos,) while it is still (a bit) appreciated in Italy France or Germany?
Apart from any possible European snobbery, elitism – being a ‘man of culture’ is not bad in my view and it is not elitist in that it can now be extended to the great number, this great number now watching realities – while they could buy a library only kings could afford in the past: something like a failure to me, not many doubts about it.
The problem now is that a modern (mass or non mass) Leonardo is less viable because we know a lot more in so many more fields.
So the big gurus or maîtres à penser, providing the big picture people are so hungry for, are disappearing. Void is advancing and people, more and more confused, fall into the hands of organizations like Scientology and similar.
However, is this trend really inevitable, one may wonder?
Lichanos. Dev, thanks for the kind words, and I am very happy that you find my reviews interesting! I am a civil engineer – no connection to the film industry at all, but I came to my profession by way of studying philosophy and art history, so I am not, so I am told, a “typical” engineer.
Such a background used to be unremarkable for engineers, say, 60 or 100 years ago, but today, at least in the USA, it is unusual.
Dev. I know what you mean. I think that’s unusual every where in the world nowadays. Even considering the fact that all science and engineering had it’s foundation in philosophy earlier. I mean many scientists in the earlier times were originally philosophers.
But, I’m sure you are a very good civil engineer too.
Should I tell you that I studied Electronics Engineering in my undergrad too. 🙂
But I never worked as an engineer..
Anyways, I look forward to go through many of your earlier posts -especially the film/literature related ones- in the coming days.
Man of Roma. Lichanos, you are definitely not a ‘typical’ engineer. Dev, I don’t know you enough to say something.
We are shifting from Kubrick, but you are both evoking the polymath, he who knows a lot about a lot. This essay The Last Days of the Polymath is a good read (though Western-centric) and describes how the polymath is disappearing.
We Europeans had always the impression that this prevalence of specialization is due to America and her big influence. Although it may be simply necessary, with a corpus of knowledge so greatly expanding.
It seems clear, Dev, that by today’s standards many scientists of the past were polymaths.
Polymath is an English term. In Italy we say ‘tuttologo’ etc. Polymathy is still a bit ingrained in the Latin countries curricula. The ‘Liceo classico’ in Italy still educates the young in this way, probably because the universal-man ideal, the ‘homo universalis’, was developed during the Italian Renaissance – one example, I like to think, where being provincial could be an advantage.
I was hit in fact some time ago by a review on a book,Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. The review was written by Jared Diamond, an American I think. Cavalli-Sforza is an Italian who started at Stanford a revolution in human genetics from the 1960s onward and basically proved that ‘races’ do not exist.
“It would be a slight exaggeration – argues Jared Diamond – to say that L.L. Cavalli-Sforza studies everything about everybody, because actually he is ‘only’ interested in what genes, languages, archaeology, and culture can teach us about the history and migrations of everybody for the last several hundred thousand years.”
The Indians should be naturally born polymaths, due to their holistic approach, although today, with the speed of their economic development, they seem somewhat obliged to imitate the Westerners and be monomaths as well. But there are so many polymaths over there!
Man of Roma. My comment was not a paean to my country. It was a paean to the Greek Paideia and the Roman Humanitas, where the Renaissance man comes from.
Polymathy as a tendency is also dangerous, it encourages flitting around, dabbling, people who cannot stick at anything (I know it too well), Giacomo Casanova (mentioned in the essay) being a high-level example of it: he was good in mathematics, in philosophy and theology, but not too good.
A metaphor in the said essay that I liked: flirting, promiscuity – they are no good. It’s the real polygamy, the numerous & deeply lived marriages that make a real polymath.
I digressed. I’ll then add Kubrick was a genius and had a tendency towards polymathy, as the amazing variety of his films attests – Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange etc. – as well as his passion for music, photography, he also being a great producer & marketing man (I heard at the radio he used to commercialize all the gadgets of his movies by himself, the heart-shaped glasses Sue Lyon wore, for example.)
Lichanos. Dev, MoR: No need to apologize for digressing here! If not here, where can we let our minds and conversation wander?
I love that word tuttologo!! Better than polymath, which sounds so dry to my ear. As for being spread too thinly, comme une dilettante, in English there is a saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none…” Still, the culture of the amateur and the dilettante are attractive to me as long as there is not too much superficiality.
I recall reading a critique of Voltaire once, I forget by whom, that railed against him: “The man has opinions on everything!” The implication was that he was flippant and felt the need to pronounce on all topics, even if he was formulaic. The size of his collected works was presented as evidence. Perhaps something there, but he was quite deep enough of the time to redeem himself, perhaps.
Regarding the engineering profession, I must say, 1st: I never could understand electrical circuits beyond the most basic. I understand water systems, and everyone says that they are similar, but not for me! 2nd: My father, retired, is an electrical engineer. He once drove me past an old industrial building in downtown Brooklyn where he said he worked at one of his first jobs after WWII. They build a computer there and had to knock down an exterior wall to get it out!
In the pre-WWII days, “patrician” familes were happy to send their sons to engineering school. Now they only become lawyers or MBAs. It was a status profession. Some say that the dominance of corporate industry after WWII succeeded in capturing the educational institutions and molding them to its own ends, i.e., the production of ready-made technicians in large supply to keep wages lower. There is something to it. Within my sort of engineering, there is still a sort of envy of doctors and lawyers who used to be seen as gods, and are still, on TV at least, seen as worthy of celebrity and dramatic presentation. They tend to earn a lot more too! On the other hand, architects, a definite prestige profession here, get paid much less than engineers and always cut each other’s throats competing for business. I think the solution to this economic, status “problem” is to make it harder to become an engineer, to require additional liberal arts training in addition to the technical curriculum. This would restrict supply, but this is not popular position. Thus, the griping about “low status” and complaints that “nobody really knows what engineers do,” go on.
I conclude with a favorite quote of mine from volume I of the Gulag Archipelago:
An engineer? I had grown up among engineers,and I could remember the engineers of the
twenties very well indeed: their open shining intellects, their free and gentle humor, their
agility and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from one engineering field
to another, and, for that matter, from technology to social concerns and art. Then,
too, they personified good manners and delicacy of taste; well-bred speech that flowed evenly
and was free of uncultured words; one of them might play a musical instrument, another dabble
in painting; and their faces always bore a spiritual imprint.
Dev. MoR and Lichanos, wow, what a discussion and exchange of thoughts going on!
MoR: Thanks for sharing your views on polymaths. I agree with you that for most people trying to be polymaths is not a good idea. I mean one life is hardly long enough to do one thing properly, so dabbling in various things is never easy. But then, the best of the people have been, in some ways, polymaths. You are very right that Kubrick was in a sense a polymath. Each of his films were so different from each other in terms of genre, treatment etc. What made him special was that he was a chameleon. Nobody could really guess what to expect from his films. He was an excellent photographer and editor too. Plus, as you mentioned, he took great interest in the marketing of his films, even designing the promos and posters.
Lichanos: Nice to read your views. My father is a civil engineer and was a good one. Well, understanding circuits was never easy for me either. I guess I concluded it years back when I finished my engineering that most people are not ready to become an engineer at the tender age of 18. I somehow finished my degree in time and tried to get away from the engineering side of things as soon I got an opportunity. Not because I looked down at engineering, rather I thought it deserved so much respect and discipline that I’m not ready for it. Sadly, most engineering schools across the world just make assembly line engineers who can get decent jobs and raise a family. But, not really nurturing questioning/scientific minds.
Similar to what you quoted in the end, even when my father graduated in the late 60’s in India, they used to be proud of their engineering degrees; even more than the doctors or even the bureaucrats of those times. This is not really true anymore.
Man of Roma. Dev and Lichanos: you both then confirm that engineers are declining socially. Damn. My youngest daughter is graduating in civil engineering! 😉
Lichanos. Dev: On Engineers – yes, I think you hit it right on the head. BTW, I didn’t go to school to get an engineering degree until I was 23 or so. I NEVER could have made it at 18, even if I’d wanted to!!
MoR: I’m sure your daughter will do just fine. Everyone wants things built right! If she works in the field, on-site, it’s very much in demand, but a very demanding job! I could not stand it, I’m sure. I look out my window at the World Trade Center site and think, “How the HELL do they get everything to come together on time?” I’d have a nervous breakdown.
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.
Rome, April 19, 1485. The corpse of a very young woman is found in a sarcophagus along the Appian Way [see image above,] face and body beautiful, teeth white and perfect, hair blonde and arranged on top of her head in the ancient way. The body seems as fresh as that of a girl of fifteen buried a few moments – and not 15 centuries – earlier.
From Antonio di Vaseli’s diary:
“Today the news came into Rome … The said body is intact. The hair is long and thick; the eyelashes, eyes, nose, and ears are spotless, as well as the nails. … her head is covered with a light cap of woven gold thread, very beautiful … the flesh and the tongue retain their natural colour.”
Messer Daniele da San Sebastiano, in a letter dated 1485:
“In the course of excavations which were made on the Appian Way … three marble tombs have been discovered … One of them contained a young girl, intact in all her members, covered from head to foot with a coating of aromatic paste, one inch thick. On the removal of this coating which we believe to be composed of myrrh, frankincense, aloe, and other priceless drugs, a face appeared, so lovely, so pleasing, so attractive, that, although the girl had certainly been dead fifteen hundred years, she appeared to have been laid to rest that very day. The thick masses of hair … seemed to have been combed then and there … the whole of Rome, men and women, to the number of twenty thousand, visited the marvel ..that day.”
Rodolfo Lanciani (1845 – 1929) – the Italian archaeologist from whose work I took the above quotes – collects other testimonies:
“The hair was blonde, and bound by a fillet (infula) woven of gold. The colour of the flesh was absolutely lifelike. The eyes and mouth were partly open … The coffin seems to have been placed near the cistern of the Conservatori palace [on the Capitoline hill, see image below], so as to allow the crowd of visitors to move around and behold the wonder with more ease.”
“Among the crowd were many who came to paint her. The touching point in the story is not the fact itself, but the firm belief that an ancient body, which was now thought to be at last really before men’s eyes, must of necessity be far more beautiful than anything of modern date.”
Yes, touching, and revealing.
She was more beautiful than anything modern because she came directly from ancient Rome.
Sweeping Europe With Greece And Rome
Why classical antiquity, the past, had become so attractive?
A new fervour of rediscovery coming from Italy had begun to sweep Europe: manners, architecture, eloquence, military techniques and the overall thought of Greece and Rome.
Antiquity had exerted occasional influence on Medieval Europe – argues Burckhardt – even beyond Italy. Here and there some elements had been imitated, northern monastic scholarship had absorbed extensive subject matter from the Roman writers.
“But in Italy the revival of antiquity – Burckhardt observes – took a different form from that of the North. The wave of barbarism had scarcely subsided before the people, in whom the antique heritage was not completely effaced, and who showed a consciousness of its past and a wish to reproduce it. …
In Italy the sympathies both of the learned and of the people were naturally on the side of antiquity as a whole, which stood to them as a symbol of past greatness. The Latin language too was easy to an Italian …”
A new ideal coming from the past was about to boost Europe forward.
Classicism Towards The Future
I was hit a few weeks ago by this passage from the on-line Britannica:
“For Renaissance humanists, there was nothing dated or outworn about the writings of Plato, Cicero, or Livy. Compared with the typical productions of medieval Christianity, these pagan works had a fresh, radical, almost avant-garde tonality.
Indeed, recovering the classics was to humanism tantamount to recovering reality….In a manner that might seem paradoxical to more modern minds, humanists associated classicism with the future.“
The point is classical thought was not constrained by preconceived ideas. A new spirit of doubt and inquiry was arising. A new world was dawning.
Getting back to that beautiful girl, her golden hair and cap made shiny by the sun, we now better understand the impact, the feelings, the deep inspiration she exerted on the people who flocked to see her.
She was seen as a miracle. She was like a fairy appeared by magic from the great times of ancient Rome.
Rodolfo Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, 1892.
Accessible on-line in Bill Thayer’s Web Site LacusCurtius, a marvellous resource on Roman Antiquity. Quotes from here.
Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, 1878.
Available as Gutenberg text. Quote from here.
Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. “Humanism.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 18 Mar. 2009
Note on a Calabrian Greek
There is some evidence that the Italian Renaissance was not only imitation of antiquity, but its partial resurrection. We’ll just say here that Italy had a direct, ethnic and linguistic, connection not only with the Romans but also with the Greeks. Greek dialects were spoken in Southern Italy until a few years ago. They almost disappeared during Fascism who discouraged linguistic minorities.
Interesting for our writing is Barlaam the Calabrian (ca. 1290 – 1348), an Italian Greek “by ethnic descent and language.” Great scholar “he was the instructor of both Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio [the first humanists], and their writings owe much to him.” (Wikipedia)
He helped Boccaccio to translate Homer into Latin thus preparing the groundwork for Renaissance.