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]

Echi del Mediterraneo. Le due sponde nord e sud (2)

sidi-bou-said1
Sidi Bou Said, nel nord della Tunisia

L’animo italiano è intimamente legato all’Egitto e al Nord Africa. Siamo tutti mediterranei. Cibo, piante e molte tradizioni sono simili. In una prospettiva a lungo termine apparteniamo allo stesso flusso storico, allo stesso mare sulle cui sponde sono fiorite alcune delle prime civiltà in questa parte del pianeta.

Certo, ci sono delle differenze ma non siamo così diversi come qualcuno potrebbe (o vorrebbe) pensare e le nostre stesse religioni, che apparentemente ci dividono, in realtà adorano lo stesso Dio.

Non è un caso che le regioni nord-africane siano considerate diverse e quasi europee dagli abitanti delle zone sub-sahariane. E in effetti esse sono assai diverse dall’Africa cosiddetta nera.

Un altro spunto di riflessione è il fatto che durante tutto il Medioevo i nordafricani erano i più ricchi, potenti e civilizzati tra tutti i popoli che si affacciavano sul mare nostrum.

 

La ricchezza si è spostata sulla sponda nord

La ricchezza si è ormai spostata sulla riva nord anche se le coste settentrionali e meridionali del Mediterraneo tendono a scambiarsi i ruoli nei secoli.

La Tunisia conquistò la Sicilia per più di 300 anni. Oggi guarda alla Sicilia (e all’Italia) come a un faro guida, come a una preziosa fonte di ispirazione.

“Le Italiens pour nous sont comme des dieux”

“Gli italiani sono come dei per noi”, mi disse una volta un manager tunisino. E noi, nella nostra chiusura mentale, nemmeno ce ne accorgiamo.

Gli italiani (specialmente quelli che viaggiano poco) non sanno quanto siamo amati in tutto il Mediterraneo.

Anche quando sbarcammo sulle isole di questo mare come occupanti assieme ai nazisti venimmo accettati di buon grado dalle popolazioni locali (che ancora conservano un buon ricordo: posso testimoniarlo per Rodi e per Samos) perché ci sentivano come parenti stretti, i tedeschi appartenendo a un mondo diverso, senza dubbio. Quanti ricordi, tradizioni e legami condividiamo con loro!

Molti villaggi del Sud Italia – o di tante isole greche, per non parlare della Spagna, sotto gli arabi per così tanto tempo – sono arabeggianti o comunque appartenenti al profondo Sud del Mediterraneo: prendete Ostuni, in Puglia, o Sperlonga, nel Lazio, e confrontatele con la bellissima Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia (cfr. l’immagine sopra): sono quasi identiche, appartenenti a una cultura assai simile, che ci piaccia o meno, perché durante il Medioevo il modello vincente proveniva dalle coste del Sud del Mediterraneo, dove si trovava la civiltà, il denaro (e il potere).

Inutile dire che quando un romano – ancor più un napoletano (per non parlare di un siciliano) – sente una melodia araba qualche corda nascosta vibra nella sua anima, come ho cercato di esprimere nel brano precedente parlando delle canzoni di Diana Haddad.

dido-stabbing-herself1-public-domain
La regina di Cartagine, Didone, abbandonata dal progenitore di Roma, Enea, si uccide

 

Roma e Cartagine, dall’amore all’odio

Ma andiamo più indietro nel tempo e immaginiamo la guerra all’ultimo sangue tra Roma e Cartagine (la Tunisia immortale, ancora una volta) la cui origine leggendaria – narrata nel bellissimo poema di Virgilio, l’Eneide – scaturì dall’amore disperato di Didone per Enea, l’antenato troiano dei romani.

La regina di Cartagine, abbandonata dall’eroe, si trafigge con la spada del suo amato dopo aver predetto eterno odio tra Roma e Cartagine.

Dall’amore l’odio, dunque. E dall’odio la terribile guerra (così dice la leggenda): una guerra storica, però, non leggendaria, che decise se il Mediterraneo dovesse essere dominato dalle sponde Nord o da quelle del Sud.

Il Nord (e Roma) vinsero, anche se per un soffio, a onor del vero.

 

Dei tunisini, in un bar de La Goulette

Nel 2003 mi trovavo per lavoro in Tunisia e nei caffè de La Goulette – il porto pittoresco di Tunisi a 10 km dalla capitale dove per inciso nacque Claudia Cardinale, l’affascinante attrice italo-tunisina – la gente discute ancora della guerra tra il romano Scipione e il cartaginese Annibale (Cartagine è oggi un sobborgo di Tunisi) e allinea fagioli sui tavoli, delineando le truppe di entrambi gli eserciti per celebrare le brillanti vittorie di Annibale sui Romani e cercando ancora di capire quale fu l’errore del loro grande condottiero nell’ultima fatale battaglia di Zama, due secoli prima della nascita di Cristo.

Entrato in uno di quei bar conobbi un gruppo di persone tra cui un tizio che aveva lavorato con vari registi del nostro paese negli innumerevoli film che gli italiani hanno girato in Tunisia.

Percepii chiaramente la gentilezza e la cordialità nei confronti di questo italiano che mostrava così interesse per la loro cultura. Siccome se ne stavano a bere la birra mi venne di chieder loro:

“Ma l’alcol non è proibito dal Corano?”.

La risposta:

“Eh bien, nous on fait tout, mais en cachette”, “beh, noi facciamo tutto, anche se di nascosto”.

E la mia mente andò alla Sicilia, dove la segretezza, il fare le cose en chachette è tipica e ben radicata.

 

Cesare, Antonio, Cleopatra (e Ottaviano)

Cleopatra_and_Caesar_by_Jean-Leon-Gerome
Cleopatra incontra Cesare, del pittore francese Jean Leon Gerome (1824 – 1904)

Tornando all’Egitto pensiamo a Alessandro Magno e al suo rapporto con l’Egitto e la città di Alessandria, da lui fondata. E pensiamo a Cleopatra, discendente di uno dei generali di Alessandro, e alla sua storia d’amore con Giulio Cesare, prima, e con Marco Antonio parente di Cesare, poi.

Cesare e Antonio, uniti dalla parentela e attratti da Cleopatra, dalla splendida civiltà egiziana (e dalle sue ricchezze).

Alla morte di Cesare il conflitto tra Antonio e Ottaviano (il futuro imperatore Augusto) fu di nuovo lo snodo storico che decise se il Mediterraneo dovesse esser dominato dalle sue sponde settentrionali o da quelle sud-orientali, questa volta.

Di nuovo Roma (e il Nord) vinsero ma successivamente, dopo la caduta dell’impero romano, il Sud e il Vicino Oriente si presero la rivincita, con l’Islam trionfante e la sopravvivenza dell’orientale Costantinopoli.

 

Mahfouz, come conclusione

In conclusione, l’eterna anima romana e mediterranea vibra in contatto con parenti a cui è legata da storia e tradizioni comuni.

Chi meglio di Naguib Mahfouz, lo scrittore premio nobel egiziano, può guidarci e aiutarci a comprendere?

nagib_mahfuz
Naghib Mahfouz (Il Cairo 1911 – Il Cairo 2006) ha descritto le mille sfumature della capitale egiziana

Nel prossimo brano dedicato alle sponde del Mediterraneo ascolteremo le parole d’amore del giovane Kamal, il personaggio principale del secondo volume – Il palazzo del desiderio – della Trilogia del Cairo di Mahfouz. Poi tratteremo la questione del patriarcato.

La Storia ha tempi brevi, lunghi (e lunghissimi)

Nello studio della storia non possiamo comprendere bene gli avvenimenti soltanto nei loro tempi brevi – i pochi anni, per esempio, dalla presa della Bastiglia al compimento della Rivoluzione Francese – ma dobbiamo inquadrarli in una prospettiva di maggior durata, inserendo – per restare nell’esempio – la rivoluzione francese sia nel tempo medio dell’Ancien régime che nel tempo lungo della civiltà europea, cioè a partire almeno dall’epoca carolingia, come ci ha insegnato Henri Pirenne.

Sono le idee di Marc Bloch, di Fernand Braudel e dei loro colleghi dell’École des Annales che si è ispirata per molti versi a Pirenne e che ha sistematicamente esplorato la storia dei tempi più lunghi (a cui bisognerebbe però affiancare i tempi lunghissimi della nostra specie, come il bellissimo libro di Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Sapiens: Breve storia dell’umanità, ci ha eloquentemente mostrato).

Ψ

Vogliamo per esempio capire meglio la frattura tra cattolici e protestanti in Europa e i luoghi in cui essa avvenne? Oppure il perché la conquista musulmana del medio oriente, dell’Africa del nord e di una parte della Spagna fu così folgorante?

Sentiamo la voce di Braudel (Il Mediterraneo, Bompiani 1987, traduzione di Elena De Angeli) :

“Che Roma abbia profondamente segnato l’Europa è evidente, ma tuttavia non mancano talune sorprendenti continuità. E’ un caso il fatto che, quando la cristianità si spezza in due nel XVI secolo, la separazione dei campi avvenga esattamente lungo l’asse del Reno e del Danubio, la duplice frontiera dell’Impero Romano? Ed è un caso anche che la conquista folgorante dell’Islam sia stata accettata facilmente sia dal Vicino Oriente sia dalle due zone dominate a suo tempo da Cartagine, l’Africa del Nord e una parte della Spagna? Lo abbiamo detto: il mondo punico era più preparato, nel profondo, ad accogliere la civiltà dell’Islam che ad assimilare la legge romana in quanto la civiltà islamica non rappresenta solo un apporto, ma anche una continuità”.

Ψ

Continuità: i tempi lunghi, o permanenze, delle civiltà.

[Sullo stesso tema vedi i due brani successivi, 1 e 2]

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Cloister of the Monreale Cathedral, Sicily
Cloister of the Monreale Cathedral, Sicily. Click for attribution

The Contribution of Islam

In the previous installment we have spoken of the Egyptian society described by Naguib Mahfouz and of the Tunisians. We have also mentioned Italian Naples and Sicily (see the splendid Monreale cloister above). We wanted to emphasize the mutual influences between the North and the South shores of the Mediterranean and at the same time show how many behaviours – defined as Islamic, such as the patriarchal control of women – belong in reality to the endless past of the civilizations.

The Muslims influenced not only Italy but Spain, Greece and other Mediterranean areas as well. In truth they influenced almost the entire world since between the VIII and the XII centuries AD Islam stretched from the Atlantic in the West (Spain) to large portions of Asia. For the very first time in history more than 3000 years of experiences were accumulated from civilizations the most various – Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Syria, Persia, China and India.

Most importantly, all this was re-transmitted by them to the rest of the world: forgotten Greek texts and medicine, Indian numerals (called Arabic since that time), Chinese papermaking and thousands of other innovations. This whole wisdom and refinement was concentrated by the way (and for a long time) in the city of Baghdad, that same city whose historical treasures were looted and destroyed because of the present foolish Iraqi war.

It is hence fair (and a bit uncomfortable) to remember that Europe – which during the Middle Ages had forgotten a lot – was gradually given back by the Muslims not only large portions of its classical culture but also something that went well beyond the confines of the Greco-Roman civilization. The big leap Europe was about to make at the end of the Middle Ages was possible also because of this contribution.

More than We are Willing to Admit

North Africans and Islamic countries are linked to Europeans more than we are willing to admit. If the Turks want to enter the Euro zone it is also because they feel somewhat part of our world. Southern and Northern Italians (think of Venice), Spaniards, Greeks etc. received many elements from the Oriental cultures.

Hard-to-deny connections. This might though disturb some reader (of this devil’s advocate) 😉

Why? Because Muslims are not well seen today. A post by Nita, an Indian journalist and blogger (and an excellent source of knowledge on India), provides statistics from the Pew Research Global that show how “while more and more Muslims are turning away from the extremists, more and more people are turning away from Muslims.”

A PewResearch table cited by Nita

In the Wikipedia’s entry on Sicily I was reading yesterday that in a “recent and thorough study the genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool was estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations was estimated to be around 6%.”

True or not, I read between the lines – I may be wrong – like a desire to prove that Sicily and Southern Italy have little to do with North Africans. Even if so, hasn’t genetics – as far as I know – little to do with cultural transmission? One can be mostly Greco-Roman genetically though subject to multi-layered cultural influences coming from no matter where.

Ψ

We will end up this second (and last) part of our journey with two notes.

Marble head of a veiled Greek Woman
Marble head of a veiled Greek Woman. Late 4th century BC. Click for source

Veiled women. As far as the veil, to think of it as Islamic is incorrect because it was widely used by the Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks (see the picture on the left), Romans and Persians. In medieval Europe (and in Anglo-Saxon England) women were dressed more or less like Muslim women are dressed today.

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam “the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety. All traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, show her veiled.” (Wikipedia).
I remember my mother always wearing a veil in church. It was a common practice in Catholicism (but not only) until the 1960s.

Sexual jealousy. It seems to be present in Islamic societies and in all those patriarchal societies obsessively concerned for true paternity. In today’s Islamic forums there is a lot of discussion (and more or less condemnation) about jealousy.

It is said that Sicilians and Calabrians are usually more possessive than other Italians. Some cultural connection with Islam in this respect may be possible. It is to be noted that honour killings were easily forgiven by law in Italy, France and other Mediterranean countries until recently.

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

Related posts:

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1
Permanences. Rome and Carthage

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean
Love Words from Egypt
Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1
Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Decline of the American Roman Empire

Louvre, Paris, photo by Guillaume Blanchard
Osiris, Isis and Horus. Louvre, Paris. Photo by Guillaume Blanchard

I didn’t want to talk about politics too much in this blog, desiring rather to deal with our Western (Mediterranean, Roman) roots, with ancient habits still surviving today, with Rome past and present, philosophy, history, arts etc.

Three recent discussions though brought me into global politics again:

  1. One occurred in the Canadian Commentator’s blog, also indicated by Theresa from Arkansas in her blog and dealing with the possible decline of the American Empire.
  2. Another discussion took place here in my blog and dealt with a tighter European unification (which I see as a good way of fighting against Europe’s decline): a really LONG discussion among Alex and Andy (two nice Englishmen living in Milan, Italy) and Man of Roma.
  3. Finally, a third discussion among Rob and MoR (in his and in MoR’s blog, 1 & 2) and Indian Ashish and Falcon. It dealt with this void here in the West which we perceive as far as morals and values, plus a lot of other stuff.

Ψ

Ok. What these three discussion had in common? Well, such minutia as the possible decline of the West, also vis-à-vis new emerging countries. I was also being asked by both Theresa and the Commentator to try a comparison between the Roman Empire and the Empire of the United States.

Ok, I’ll try, but:

  1. Allow me to expand it to the entire West (America + Europe) instead of dealing with US decline only and …
  2. allow me to restrict it to the possible effects such Western decline is having on culture, ideas and beliefs of the people involved.

Will this mean I’ll get back to my blog’s track? I do not know, really, but here we are, here is global politics again (though my own way) 😉

Spiritual Désarroi

The heat is getting so appalling in here that thoughts become weird and erratic. I’m typing with sticky fingers, ants invading my human space in search of cooler air. Wondering if all this can be an extra motive why I accepted this topic again and why I feel like musing on ideas of decline…

Well, actually what we see here in Europe and America are all these people turning towards oriental religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, or doctrines like Scientology, or even Neo-pagan movements growing in Anglo-Saxon countries and probably originating from a disappointment towards Christianity and its different varieties (above, an image of the Neopagan Goddess and the moon).

A woman, a friend of mine, is starting to adore some crazy coloured stones she always brings along wherever she goes. Amazing, no doubt. And what about this person very close to me who turned to Sathya SaiBaba, the Hindu saint, long ago? Or this relative of mine who, once relocated in France, embraced the Muslim religion? (my mother never got over it, I’ll confess).

Many Muslims, vis-à-vis such Western spiritual crisis (and relativism), react in different ways, from a total acceptance of consumer society values up to forms of moral rejection or even active reaction (which unfortunately also lead to terrorism). But that’s another story. Let’s stick to the point.

As the Roman Empire. An Analogy

Referring to Western contemporary societies, numerous commentators and artists have talked of a decline-of-the-Roman-Empire type of situation. It is an interesting analogy, since in those old days the official Roman religion wasn’t so attractive any more and innumerable oriental cults were spreading among the different classes of the Roman society.

Italian Archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani ( 1846 – 1929 ) for example unearthed the remains of the Temple of Isis in Rome, who was imported by the Romans from Egypt and set on the banks of the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. We have also mentioned in a previous post how Egyptian rites and culture fascinated the Romans at the times of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony (and in other times).


(Ants are now walking on my keyboard. I HAVE to make a pause and gently push them away….)

ψ

Since among all those foreign cults the final winner was the Christian sect, would it be totally absurd to wonder if once again there will be a winner? We mean – and it might be the heat – is it possible that again some faith (new or old) could profit from today’s Western void (which seems to affect Europe much more than America)? Italian Oriana Fallaci feared Islam would be the winning belief about to conquer Europe…. Well, we do hope that no Abrahamic religion (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) will prevail, for a number of reasons, some of which we can mention in the next post …

(ants and heat allowing… I need to buy AC, good also for mosquitoes, no doubt about it)

A fascinating depiction of Western void is offered by the acclaimed movies Le Déclin de l’empire américain (The Decline of the American Empire, 1986) and Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions, 2003) by the outstanding French-Canadian director Denys Arcand, both illustrating in an eloquent way this emptiness affecting at least two generations.

by Denys Arcand

(to be continued tomorrow; we will associate this topic with Buddhism, science and the Dalai Lama. See you tomorrow then.)

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Sacred Islam Prayer rug. Fair use

The French historian Fernand Braudel writes:

“Civilizations are not mortal. They survive transformations and catastrophes and when necessary rise up again from their ashes (…). Islam probably sprang from desert Arabia, crossed by caravans and with a long past behind, but it is above all a territory acquired by the conquest of Arabic horsemen and camel-drivers even too easily: Syria, Egypt, Iran, northern Africa. Islam is primarily a heir of the Near East, a whole series of cultures, economies and ancient sciences. Its heart lies in the narrow space that goes from Mecca to Cairo, Damask and Baghdad. (…)”

Islam Prayer. Fair use

“A civilization is in fact not only a religion – however a religion may be at the centre of any cultural system. It is an art of living as well, i.e. the reproduction of thousands of behaviours. In ‘The Arabian Nights’ saluting a king means ‘kissing before him the earth amid his hands’. Well, it is a gesture already customary at the court of the Parthian king Khosrau (531-579 AD) – Braudel continues – and it is the same gesture that in 1500 and 1600 (and later) European ambassadors in Istanbul, in Ispahan or in Delhi tried to elude finding it extremely humiliating for themselves and for the princes they represented. [The ancient Greek Historian] Herodotus, [490-425 BC] was upset by some [Ancient] Egyptian manners: ‘In the middle of the road, as a salutation, they prostrate the one in front of the other, lowering their hands down to their knees.’ “

Islamic Clothes. Fair use

“Think about the traditional costumes of the Moslems whose evolution will be very slow [see picture above]. It is already recognizable – Braudel argues – in the dress of the ancient Babylonians, described by the same Herodotus [more than] twenty-five centuries ago: ‘The Babylonians first of all wear a flax tunic down to their feet (which we would today call gandura, notes E. F. Gautier), and on top of it another wool tunic (which we would call djellaba); then they wear a short white mantle (we would say: a short white burnus); and they cover their heads with a mitre (a fez, today, or tarbush).’ And we could continue talking of the houses (pre-Islamic), and of food and superstitions: the hand of Fatima, … it already adorned the Carthaginian funeral steles (see figure below).”

Hand of Fatima used as a pendant. GNU Free Documentation License

“Islam is evidently tied to the compact historical ground of the Near East.” (…) In short – Braudel concludes – any study of our present ways of thinking necessarily has to look at the endless past of the civilizations.”

(La Mediterranée, by Fernard Braudel, Flammarion 1985. Translation by Man of Roma. Square bracket text is by MoR)

(The end )

Italian version

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1

Downtown Beirut. Public domain

A few days ago, when listening to Diana Haddad, an Arabic Lebanese pop singer, something echoed in my mind.

Before the war (started in 1974) Lebanon was called the Switzerland of the Middle-East. In the 50s Beirut was one of the financial capitals of the planet and the intellectual capital of the Arab world. It offered, among the rest, highest financial skills to the Saudi Arabians and a very convenient interface for Western firms towards the Arabs, rich in oil.

It also offered an Arabian Nights highly refined dolce vita attracting all kinds of VIPs, Hollywood and international actors, tycoons plus the most splendid ladies of the epoch. Beirut was a synonym of luxury, of all pleasures combined and of intelligent cosmopolitism. Three languages were (and are) there spoken: Arab, French and English.

Some dear Italian friends of mine studied in Beirut in their youth and are in fact fluent in these 3 languages. When we were children we heard all these magic tales from our parents and looked amazed at pictures in gossip magazines.

To the history-addicted all this flourishing is not surprising. Lebanon IS the land of the Phoenicians, highly refined merchants since Antiquity and ancestors of mighty Carthage.

Now that Beirut’s glamour is gone – the city has been partially rebuilt but its premier role seems to have moved to London, Dubai, Cyprus etc. – this place is still highly civilised though, since civilisations are not mortal I believe, and, just as an example, Lebanese pop music (and culture) is probably the most successful among today’s Arabic youth, being seen as ‘modern’ but of course a bit frowned upon by the traditionalists.

Here a song by the delighful Diana Haddad for you to listen.

Northern Mediterranean youth cannot but feel how similar these people are to us, and yet portions of this music and other details we feel are diverse. One can say that this diversity is provided by Islam. Yes but, I am asking myself, is Islam really so alien?

Well, yes and no. One moment we feel it is the Mediterranean (hence not so different from Southern Europe,) another moment it is Persia, Arabia, Baghdad, Pakistan, Northern India, Indonesia, West and East Asia in short, both very different from Europe.

This diversity is though exciting. Why should it scare us?

As we promised in an earlier post and its notes, this writing is the first of a series dedicated to Islam, seen as exotic and yet somewhat close to our Roman heart. We are not here to judge but to learn (and possibly communicate.)

Once more we’ll ask French historian Fernand Braudel for inspiration and guidance. See you at our next post then.

Italian version

Ψ

For the same theme though in a wider picture:

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1
The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Permanences. India and China

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Civilizations Are Not Mortal.
India and China

I have received my first comments from Indian people. I’m so glad this happened. India intrigues me and, as I said in the introduction, I was looking for a wider communication. As far as India I had a special interest for this country since I was a kid. As I told this Indian blogger Ishmeet “I remember how my father, now no more, used to tell us stories about your country, about princes and wonderful palaces, and we all kids listened in wonder. I have been to India many times since, and my sisters and brothers too.”

So this blog is now starting to be real fun. Only, I had prepared a post on Rome and Carthage and on the idea that civilizations never die. Since this is true also for India and China (put together for their ancientness, huge size and great success) I wanted to please my Indian readers but I had no post ready for them. This is why I am copying this exchange of comments with Ashish, another incredible Indian guy (I changed only 2-3 words of my text). I do promise to face these topics in a more structured way and with lots of posts. Welcome India!

Emblem of India

Ashish sent this:
“I’m not familiar with the Roman names of the pre-christian Gods and Goddesses but I think Venus is Aphrodite. I’m more familiar with their Greek names ….Legend says Rome was founded by two brothers – Romulus and Remus who were nursed by a wolf. I think thats the first picture you’ve got there right? If we sit to write down all the events and people that have sprouted from Italy, a thousand page book would not suffice! Something folks say about my country too… lol!”

ManofRoma replied:
Dear Ashish, first of all my compliments for your blog. Witty and such fun! The older generation needs fresh spirit from youth or we get like mummies (I loved that post on “Interestin’ thing’s goin’ on!” and some links, like that about USA needing help: really funny indeed).

Yes, Venus corresponds more or less to Aphrodite, and we usually talk about Greek-Roman civilization, although the Romans were at first barbarians compared to the Greeks, their Italian neighbours (Greeks actually had founded towns in Italy too, like Cumae and beloved Naples – Napoli -, so close to Rome). (…)

As far as the book thickness, well, who knows, maybe a thousand page book would not suffice for Italy lol, but what about India? A 2 or even 2.5 thousand page book, would it suffice? Vedic civilization started in 1700 BC, right? The Indus Valley civilization(s) even earlier? I have to brush up all this, having been too busy with IT networking. But I know that Rome was founded in 753 BC according to legend, and archeology more or less confirms this. Ok, Greeks and Etruscans being our close relatives were older, but still this age difference remains. So probably we were barbarians also compared to you ….

Nonetheless it is not incorrect to say that we (Indians and Italians) are ancient peoples vis-à-vis UK, for example, which I though admire because they have been very successful and they seem to have some of the Roman qualities we used to have (either by chance or by Roman rule on them for 400 years).

In the West people are so silly (…) and ignorant about other civilizations (…) what strikes me most is how so many people in Europe and America are surprised about this sudden success of India and China.

Bombay Stock Exchange

You peoples in the Far East, after all, were at the top of the world in science, philosophy, technology and richness for….1000 years? 2000 years? More? I have to check that better. Ok, you went down for 200 (250?) years due to British industrial revolution, who helped Anglo-Saxons (and the nations they created) to take the lead. But what are even 250 years? Only 10 generations, if we consider 1 generation = 25 years. Very little indeed.

The sad truth is that people in here are busier checking how fat Britney Spears is getting. We ALL in here, Europeans and Americans, need help. A LOT of help.

PS

I am afraid Europe is even in worse shape than America, which has made this big mistake of the Iraqi war but won’t decline so easily.

Italian version

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Kastell Welzheim, near the Limes, Porta Praetoria

Civilisations are not Mortal.
Rome and Carthage

The French historian Fernand Braudel argues in “La Mediterranée” (see note below):

“That Rome has deeply marked Europe it is evident, but nevertheless there is room for some amazing continuities. Is it by chance that, when Christianity breaks in two during the XVI century, the separation of the fields occurs exactly along the axis of the Rhine and the Danube, the double frontier of the Roman Empire?

And is it also by chance that the astonishing conquest of Islam was easily accepted by both the Near East and the two areas formerly dominated by Carthage, i.e. Northern Africa and a portion of Spain? [see map below]

We have said it before: the Phoenician world was more inclined, deep inside, to welcome the Islamic civilization than it was to assimilate the Roman law, for the reason that the Islamic civilization didn’t only represent a contribution, it represented a continuity as well.”

[Extensive note to text]

Carthage’s zone of influence in the III B.C.

Italian version

ψ

See also the above note later become a post:

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds