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]

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (2)

Refugees from North Africa are flooding Lampedusa, Sicily

[read the previous chapter]

Libya, a Critical Situation

“Thousands of people, mainly from Tunisia, but also from Libya and Egypt, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks” (BBC).

“Since January Italy is facing an exceptional flux of immigrants, with over 22,000 landings mainly from Tunisia… from Eritrea and Somalia via Libya on the island of Lampedusa.” (Le Monde)

Lampedusa, between Sicily and Tunisia

The situation in Libya is more critical. According to Le Monde anti-Gaddafi rebels have no military experience, despite arms and support arriving from Egypt and Nato intervention. The port city of Misrata in north-western Libya (130 mi to the east of Tripoli, see image below) seems now to be the hub of the crisis.

Gaddafi is ready to conquer it and there are rumours of tortures suffered by the unfortunate who in Misrata fell into the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces. BBC mentions use of “human shields in the war-torn town.”

Libyan uprising main cities. Via Wikipedia. Click to enlarge

According to one of Gaddafi’s 5 beautiful Ukrainan nurses, El Rais’s health is that of an iron-man 🙄

Is the Ukrainian nurse’s evaluation accurate? Well, a desert raider like him might get extra boost from ‘fight’. Berlusconi is similar but he is not a desert man

France who first led to the intervention now fears that “we are likely to get bogged down in Misrata” (as French foreign Minister Alain Juppé’s put it). France also fears too many immigrants are coming from Italy. Italy protests France is against the Schengen agreement and says Europe should help to contain the human flood.

More British war planes seem ready to begin ground attacks (instead of just no-fly-zone checks.)

Gaddafi has sent a message to Obama yesterday. Today H. Clinton dismissed it saying he must resign and go into exile. Anti-Gaddafi rebels complain that bureaucracy is causing “Nato to take too long to respond to calls for air strikes” (BBC ) [not to mention the fact that Nato has killed quite a few anti-Gaddafi protesters by mistake!]

Berlusconi and Sarkozi will meet in Rome on April 26th. By the way Italy has finally recognised Libya’s rebel National Council.

Berlusconi was hesitant given his personal ties with Gaddafi. Now that all is more or less in the hands of Nato he looks happier.

Moscow, Berlin and Turkish Ankara seek a role as mediators. Ankara has sent Ambassador Omur Soledin to Libya.

ψ

These the recent facts. Allow me some (Roman) rambling now.

Lost in their Opiate Dream

Women of Algiers
Women of Algiers by Eugène Delacroix, 1834, the Louvre, Paris. Click for a wider view of this great but a tad decadent painting (this is just a detail) and for credits

Aren’t the French and the British lost in an opiate dream that they can still play a world role ‘of their own’? I am for a EU tighter unification, it is clear, and any prima donna or Trojan horse trying to dismantle such process from within really rails me.

The Britons are famous in their efforts to obstruct any real unification of ‘the continent’ – from Napoleon’s (was it good?) and Hitler’s (it was good) until today.

And the French? Are they pro EU only when they can play a grandeur role in it?

[Gosh, when at times they pronounce this word (France) I cannot but think of De Gaulle (my father imitated le Général not without fidelity and humour) who used to say he had ‘une certaine idée de la Fraaaance‘.]

Of course I can understand their opiate dream, their greatness belonging to only 4-6 generations ago, a short span of time. But aren’t their imperial souvenirs damaging this region, Europe, the richest of the planet (not for long) but the weakest politically?  With the huge challenges ahead of us (ie Bric) is it intelligent? Is it forward-thinking?

[See a presumptuous post of mine on EU Trojan Horses]

Braudel observed:
“Sicile-Afrique? Fondamentale”

Italy, the eternal loose woman, is reclining herself on the middle of the Mediterranean.

Fernand Braudel:

L’Italie, avec la Sicile et la Tunisie coupent la Mediterranée en deux … Est et Ouest. La liaison Sicile Afrique est fondamentale”.

This centrality favoured the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean.

Carthage (today’s Tunis) had the same central position in the Med though reversed (from South northwards). Rome though won (but … read here)

Italy and Tunisia cut the Mediterranean in two. Wikimedia. Click to enlarge

Among the European nations Italy is perhaps the most popular in North Africa and the whole Med area (some grudge left in Libya, of course.)

We eat the same food, they sing our songs (and us theirs but we’re not aware of it,) they watch since the 1950s our now horrible TV, they get consoled and excited by our III-World South which they can understand.

Tunisia in the last 100 years always looked at Sicily (and Italy) as a beloved guiding light and its greatest inspiring model (“les Italiens pour nous sont comme des dieux”, “Italians are like gods to us”, a Tunisian manager once told me. You may like this post.

This role of Italy – its Mediterranean centrality over the millennia and our today’s persisting cultural and economical influence – is responsible in my view for a certain succession of events:

Berlusconi –> Ben Ali –> Mubarak …. then the rest of the Arab Spring.

A theory of mine perhaps. So let’s now test it.

All North Africa is exploding. Arab protesters in Paris. Click for credits and to enlarge

Arab 2011 Revolution.
Are all MED BIG MEN resonating?

1) Berlusconi began to wobble …

… and while the entire world was cheerfully chatting about it (lots of fun stuff) the Tunisians were watching closely...

[Some mysterious harmony vibrating in the Mediterranean …]

They couldn’t but notice this North MED(iterranean) BIG MAN about to fall, and they know he being not terribly different from many other modern-day MED BIG MEN all over coastal Mediterranean.

[A darn tradition of ours. Let us mention: a majority of tyrants in Greek city states, Alexander and the Hellenistic monarchs; the Roman well balanced republic later superseded by Julius Caesar, Augustus & other emperors; Louis XIV le Roi Soleil; Napoleon; Napoleon III; Mussolini il duce; Hitler son of romanized Austria-Germany;  Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria; Francisco Franco, the Caudillo; Salazar his neighbour; De Gaulle le général; Italian Umberto Bossi il celodurista (I got it hard!) and Silvio Berlusconi il Cavaliere]

Of course our PM is not Bel Ali, Gaddafi or Mubarak. Italy is democratic.

But Italy (unique in the West) has this patriarchal-paternal figure (Papi his girls called him) whose de facto powers go beyond democracy. Berlusconi can influence voters being the richest tycoon and media owner in our country – as if President Clinton and Murdoch were the same person!

Now our PM has though less constitutional power than Clinton and our usually sage President of Republic counts too in our charter. Magistrates are independent and tough, and people are not stupid. Which all is saving our ass from media fascism I hope.

So Berlusconi is something Tunisians could understand. Ben Ali controlled almost all Tunisian media via his family (I worked for a Tunisian Internet company owned by Ben Ali’s daughter or wife, I forgot.)

ψ

2) … so Tunisia blew up. Also plagued by unemployment etc. Tunisia rebels against Ben Ali’s well-organized fascism. I am witness to black-clad secret police guys’ total ubiquity. Mediterranean resonating empathy I’ll repeat.

After Berlusconi wobbles Tunisia begins to blow. Click for credits and to enlarge

A small country Tunisia, one might say. Ok, but Tunisia’s rebellion infected Egypt.

Now THIS changed things entirely.

The Land of Pharaohs Wakes Up

Egyptian protests. March of the Millions: Tahrir Square. Click for a great night view

2) Egypt gets infected. The Arab world and beyond is following.

Well, given its ancientness & importance when Egypt sneezes a whole piece of the planet may catch pneumonia. Egypt is the most respected Arab state of all, beyond a doubt.

Digression. According to the Indian-British Indologist A. L. Basham – A Cultural History of India, Oxford 1975 p. XXI- “there are four main cradles of civilizations [on this planet]: 1.China. 2. The Indian subcontinent [probably the most influential in the very long run imo, MoR]. 3. The ‘Fertile Crescent‘ [ie Egypt, Eastern Canaan-Syria-Phoenicia, Mesopotamia ie Iraq, MoR]. 4. The Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy.”

THIS was perhaps Cleopatra – found on the Esqulinus hill, one of the 7 h. Well …

[I’m starting – some scholars are starting – to suspect a North-Europe Hyperborean cradle too. Read here if you dare 🙂 …]

Egypt is at the head of num 3 region (even though Iraq invented writing.) The Greeks totally recognized Egyptian and other Eastern influences.

[But some scholars in-between 1800s-1900s  – mainly German but not only – wanted ALL colonizing West’s knowledge to be derived from an abstract ‘pure’ Greece in order to justify the exploitation of the lower-races. Winckelmann (1717 – 1768) earlier and Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) bear a foundational responsibility among the rest for this gloomy error]

Pythagoras (Πυθαγόρας) who spread a scientific-religious cult all over South Italy – which will affect Plato, ALL West science & the core of Christianity – travelled long years in Egypt, in the Middle East and Mesopotamia perhaps too: he was permeated by African and Eastern wisdom! Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) surely spent years in Egypt. Just 2 examples, the former being the greatest of them as for the future of Western culture.

Btw, the story of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Gaius Octavius and Cleopatra – do you remember it? (see above how sexy might have been Κλεοπάτρα, the last Pharaoh of Egypt; read this post)

Now all is getting dangerous  – but also promising let’s hope for humankind.

ψ

So let us laugh a bit. Berlusconi-owned newspapers barked against France who dared enter Mare Nostrum ie the Med:

“Beyond the Alps they should remember once in a while that in their history they don’t just have Napoleon, they also have General Cambronne!” (ineffable Georgio Mulé)

Filippo Ceccarelli’s comment on the Roman daily Repubblica:

“Imagine which weight will be given, in that place of sheer humility that is Paris, to this saucy invitation from George Mulé.”

A wild laugh, that gave me a half hour of oblivion.

ψ

This whole Arab thing is dangerous but I am fascinated that many of these countries are more ancient than Italy or Greece.

It is important to understand that Syria, Egypt etc. are not only Arabic: they are much more (and earlier) than that (read 1, 2 – delighful Diana Haddad! – and especially 3)

The more ancient a country – pls be patient – the greater its reverberations in large parts of the world.

Hadn’t Islamic revolution started in Iran, former ancient (non Arabic) Persia at the head of a thousands-year-old Empire, great model for Alexander and later Rome?

Which also explains why Fascism, invented by the Italians – a complete and rich State theory & practice – was so influential in the world despite Italy’s negligible economical importance at that time.

Which applies even more to today’s Egypt. A whole piece of the world is now boiling because of the land of the Pharaohs.

ψ

As French Fernand Braudel loved to say – “civilizations are not mortal.”

Related posts:

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (1)

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Love Words from Egypt

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1


Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea

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.

 

Over at the Hannibal’s. Can We Really ‘Know’ the Greco-Romans? (2)

The Ancient Roman ‘Temple of all gods’ (Pantheon,) Rome. Click to zoom in

[continued from part 1]

Opinion and Knowledge (of the Ancients)

MoR: “Douglas, you are a friend and you raise here a big philosophical question: whether man can reach truth. I’m not qualified, my wife is the epistemologist of the family (she has a degree on philosophy of science) and all I understood (from our quarrels) is that ‘scientific’ research is all about trying to go beyond doxa, ie biased opinion, so you hit the nail on the head I believe.

By ‘research is progressing’ I meant: ok, we will possibly never ‘know’ these folks (Saxons invading Britain, Macedonians at the times of Alexander etc.) but the various ‘pictures’ we have of them are enriched day by day, researchers communicating more (such ‘pictures’ are interrelated), and, our sources being not only ancient literary texts (which reflect the view of the writer) but of course also the (less biased?) ‘data’ from archaeology, biology, from studies on agricultural techniques, fossil seeds etc.

As an example (also of various doxas coexisting), the ‘picture(s)’ of Rome’s fall – the period 300-600 CE, ‘late antiquity’ ie between antiquity and middle ages – have changed dramatically in the minds of many specialists, I believe, although the public still thinks in terms of a Gibbon’s progressively decadent, imploding empire (Gibbons mentioned Rome’s ‘immoderate greatness’ so that “the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight” plus he blamed Christianity for Rome’s weakening) which received the last blow by totally ‘rough’ Germanic barbarians.

Who is right? I don’t know, these younger historians though surely profiting from a lot more of multi-disciplinary data I think.

The Barbarian Kingdoms, ca. 526 CE. By the 6th century the Western Roman Empire had been replaced by smaller kingdoms. Click for credits and to zoom in

Feeling Too Superior, Was Rome ‘Murdered’?

It seems the news is ‘electric’ (as Peter Heather put it in his The Fall of the Roman Empire) for both the descendants of the Romans and of the Germans – I belonging to both a bit, as I said in my mystical (and emphatic) *first post*.

Basically:

  1. the ‘late’ Roman empire was a total success story.
  2. Germanic, non Roman, Europe was a two-speed reality (no new thing lol,) one portion being much more civilised than we had thought, surely influenced by Rome but absolutely non Roman (so this doesn’t include Bavaria or Austria, that were romanized, and, not by chance, when ‘Nordic’ Luther arrived, they said: no thanks).

So what the hell happened? Why healthy Rome fell?

Possibly because, blinded by her sense of superiority, Rome made fatal mistakes, and was murdered by the German Goths. Within though a period of ‘collaboration’ with the Germans.

[No easy topic the fall of Rome. Here’s a big list of theories on it.]

[I believe Christianity helped a bit (love your enemy blah blah, Gibbon in this was right imo), but I still have to figure out to which extent.]

Even the German Women were terrific fighters

J. Caesar Admired German Valour

MoR: PS. Excuse my logorrhea, such ‘collaboration’ between Germans and Romans was started by Julius Caesar the Myth. One reason he conquered Gaul [today’s France, Luxembourg and Belgium] was that the Germans, much stronger than the Gauls or Celts, were crossing the Rhenus (Rhine) in flocks and invading Gaul (so Caesar by conquering Gaul postponed an invasion that occurred much later with the German Franks, thence the name of France.)

Therefore Caesar, after defeating the Germans of Ariovistus, said to the toughest prisoners: “I admire your valour, so I give you a choice: either to be sold in the slave markets or to become my personal guard”. I think the Germans preferred the latter also because it was in their culture to follow the leader that proved most valorous.

Julius Caesar

Caesar took a risk, but not that much I believe. He belonged to the impoverished nobility and was a son of the slums of Rome (Subura) where he probably had lived in contact with Germans and Gauls long enough to understand their mentality. And surely, in the conquest of Gaul that ensued, the Germans proved much more faithful to Caesar than the Celts allied to the Romans. From that day many Roman emperors had German gorillas protecting them – not to mention foot soldiers and Cavalry, also used by Caesar.

Douglas: MoR, thus began the Praetorian Guard (under Augustus, successor to Julius) which became the controllers of the fates of emperors for 300 years until Constantine disbanded them. Perhaps that had something to do with the fall of Rome? Hitler seemed to have read his history well and created his own guard but tried to control them utterly and was quite successful in maintaining their total loyalty. Did il Duce? Certainly, he had his personal guard but they failed to protect him in the end from the citizens.

I think (to get back to history and understanding the common citizen of any culture or state) that with the expansion of literacy came more understanding. One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite. Ancient Rome (and Athens, Egypt, and so forth) are known by what its rulers (for the most part) decided was important (and, often, flattering). To learn about the average citizen, we must make guesses and extrapolations based on myths and legends and on relics found. Do we taint these guesses and extrapolations with our own biases? Probably so.

But my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.

Old Temple of Athena at the Acropolis of Athens. Click for credits and to enlarge

MoR:

my bias is that history was, for centuries, the tales of kings and it was told as they wanted it told.

It certainly was Douglas.

MoR: [talking to both Douglas and Phil] “That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people, do envy.

As for the Praetorian guard, I just now read in the Wikipedia that their role – according to who wrote the article – was of stability to the Empire on the whole. I don’t think though the Praetorian guard (a substantial army) were Germans (I only believe a few gorillas around many emperors were). And maybe some of the Praetorians were, I don’t know. I’m sure instead the legions who fought against the enemies of Rome had a progressively increasing number of Germans, which in the end became a problem possibly.

Rome is an Idea

Rome was more an idea, she was pretty international. The emperors themselves (Spanish, Arab etc.) could come from any land of the empire (like the Popes.)

It is little known that Caesar’s legions who conquered Gaul came mostly from Gallia Cisalpina, today’s northern Italy (80% sure). Big difference was there between these Italian Gauls and, so to say, the French ones. The former were Celts too (though with doses of Roman & Latin blood) but wore the toga (Gallia Togata is another name for it), eg were deeply romanized (Virgil, Pompey the Great etc. came from there), hence immensely more faithful to Rome than any other external people.

They only lacked regular Roman citizenship, which was given them as a prize by Caesar at the end of his Celtic wars. So Caesar – no Hitler or Mussolini indeed – had also the merit to create the unity of Italians, re-attained only 150 years ago!

The Roman legion was a perfect and disciplined war machine. Click to zoom in

Do We Know the ‘Average’ Roman?

One source of great insight into American history is the correspondence between its citizens. These are the thoughts of the average citizen, not merely the hopes and dreams of the elite.

True, but pls, allow me, we know something (I’d say a lot) about the average Roman too (who btw exchanged letters – the middle class – but we have lost most of them). Comedies were for the common people as well, or they would have been unsuccessful – there were no cinema or TV, thence theatre was terribly important – plus we have thousands of graffiti – whole sentences, poems etc. – written by the upper middle and lower classes: you probably under estimate the complexity of ancient society, no less structured than ours. Yes, the lower classes could be literate too, although, ok, the rate of illiteracy was higher, but, since religion touched the middle and the lower milieus especially, and we knowing A LOT about it (by Roman religion I mean ALL the cults present in Rome, Christianity included) I can infer that:

We know a lot about the poor people as well. The whole (monumentally documented) history of the progressive success of Christianity tells tons of things about the lower classes of the whole empire from the times of early Christians onwards. Just think of the letters by Paul of Tarsus: he had to persuade the non Pagan populace of the Empire – slaves included: see image below – but most of all he had to inspire & guide the faith of the already Christian elements – his message hence being directed to ALL social classes, it goes without saying.

Places visited by Paul. His letters tell about the life of the common people of the empire

I mean, we even know – due to the translations of the Bible – the Greek & Latin language actually spoken by the populace: for the reasons you mention the language of the poor and of the rich differed in sophistication.

As for simple-to-the-masses Latin the first translations of the Bible – Jerome’s not by chance is called ‘vulgata’, from vulgus, populace – appeared in the 4th century CE if I’m not wrong. They were written in non literary, ‘vulgar’ Latin, – eg that everyone could understand – to the extent that today’s Italians with a high-school diploma can more or less read them, vulgar Latin and Italian being closely related (whatever you Phil may think about it lol 🙂 ).

I have to stop this, Douglas. Thanks for obliging this lazy old man to work.

Douglas:

That you mentally associate the emperors of Rome with Hitler & Mussolini, is interesting. There’s not much linking to be made imo, apart from the masquerade etc. I explain it with the great tradition of democracy in your country, which, we Latin people on the whole, do envy.

Actually, it is both of those men who made the association. Not unusual for more modern despots to see themselves in the same light as men whom history has portrayed as great.
(Gen. Patton saw himself as a reincarnation of soldiers of the past and, I suspect, great generals and military leaders)

Julius took control of the political structure of Rome and turned it away from being a true republic of the times. He had himself declared dictator. He took total control of both the political and military structures. And was assassinated for it. But he laid the groundwork for Augustus to become Emperor. In some ways, he created the Roman Empire. First, by expanding the territory under its control and, second, by changing its political structure and laying the groundwork for dictatorial rule.

As I understand it, the literacy rate of Rome was ~15%. This would be the elite ruling class and the “middle class”. The “middle class” would be better described as the merchant class. This would be where the graffiti came from, as well as the letters.

When I spoke of the correspondence of American citizens, it began with the literate classes. But later it expanded into the general public as education expanded. We were fortunate that we began as a country after the invention of the printing press and at the beginning of the expansion of literacy. It is more the good fortune of our time period than anything else.

Try to understand, I am not denigrating Rome’s history. I am trying to explain my scepticism of history in general before the advent of the spread of literacy.

ψ

Read part 1 of this conversation

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

An image of the Roman Ghetto. Giggetto restaurant and Augustus' Porticus Octaviae behind
An image of the Roman Ghetto. The famous Giggetto restaurant on the left with Augustus’ Porticus Octaviae in the background

“Who’s more Roman than the Roman Jews? Some of us date back from the times of Emperor Titus [39-81 AD]” – Davide Limentani told me in the early 80s.

Limentani was (and perhaps still is) at the head of a big wholesale and retail glass and silver company in Rome. I had phoned him three days earlier for an interview that had to be published on the Roman daily La Repubblica.

Ditta LimentaniI remember a lovely spring day in the old alleys of the Roman Ghetto, with swallows crying over a glorious blue sky. He was sitting at his desk in the aisle of an impressively ramified, catacomb-like store in via Portico d’Ottavia 47 (look at its stripped-down sign above,) crammed with an immense variety of crystal, pottery, silver, china, pewter, anything one can think of – his swift and bright eyes looking in every direction.

The firm had / has among its clients popes, cardinals, celebrities and governments, including the White House. Davide is descendant of Leone, who in 1820 started the most ancient wholesale glassware store in Rome which still bears his name: Leone Limentani – 1820 Roma.

“Leone er cocciaro” [coccio = fragment]: that’s how they called him” Davide said smiling. “He had in fact started with glass junk and had accumulated a big credit with the S. Paolo Glass-works, whose effigy was on every glass – the old Roman bibitari [sellers of drinks] remember it well. The S. Paolo Glass-works were having difficulties because of some faulty articles, and, since a 1514 papal edict allowed the Jews to trade only in commodities “of secondary importance” Leone exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!” so he bought out the second rate articles from the S. Paolo thus laying the foundation of his new activity.”

An image of the Ghetto. Courtesy of Hidesideofrome. Click for source

“The Roman Jews are almost 20,000” Davide continued “and only at the Portico of Octavia they live in a community. A love-hate relationship with the ghetto, they have” he confessed handing some pictures of his family to me. When the Piedmontese [who unified Italy 150 years ago] opened the Ghetto’s doors in 1870 many Jews left with the desire of forgetting all they had suffered here. But they soon came back because the rione Sant’Angelo represents all their roots. In the summer evenings the elderly sit in the open air and speak a vernacular almost dantesco, dantesque, in its character: ‘Guarda che vituperio!’ [ = ‘watch all this vituperation!’.]”

The Arch of Titus. Click for credits and larger picture
The Arch of Titus, with the panel depicting the spoils from the temple of Jerusalem. Click for credits and larger pict

They Never Passed Under the Arch of Titus

Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Emperor of Rome. Traditionally the Roman Jews never passed under the arch of Titus. There’s a reason. This ‘delight of the human kind’, as the historian Suetonius called him, didn’t turn such a delight to the Jews, who saw Jerusalem sacked and its temple destroyed by Titus’ armies in 70 AD. Domitian, Titus’ younger brother, built the arch to commemorate the victory and on one side panel of it [see the image above,] carved in Pentelic marble, we see the spoils of the temple during the triumphal procession in Rome.

The first Jewish-Roman war (66-73 AD), this is how historians call it, saw many Jews die (Josephus claims 1,100,000 during the siege) which greatly intensified the Jewish diaspora all over the Mediterranean.

From that war we know that a group of Jews ended their lives as gladiators in the circus at Caesarea, the Roman stronghold in Palestine. Others died in the Sardinian or Spanish mines. A large number though were brought to Rome.

Menorah

Now it turns the Romans needed labour to build the Colosseum. So the stones of the most famous Roman monument were wetted by the sweat of many slaves among which were the Jews captured by Titus. This group had been though greeted by an already flourishing Jewish community – merchants, freedmen and slaves – who had come to Rome 130 years earlier together with Pompey the Great at the end of his wars in the East.

Today’s Roman Jews seem to be the descendants of these two Jewish settlements in Rome – and of others arriving I don’t know when and where from.

Therefore 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 Flavian era. Actually “Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years, longer than any other European city” (!) [Jewish Encyclopedia.]

Triumph of Titus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1885). Click for larger picture
Triumph of Titus by Sir  Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1885), a Dutch painter active in Victorian Britain. Wikimedia. Click for a larger picture

Not the place here to discuss the reasons of the clash between the Romans and the Jews, which gave birth to many wars and ended up with the Jews leaving Palestine. As for the Roman Jews, we know that they had been treated benevolently by Julius Caesar who had also exonerated them from any tax during their sabbatical year. From Suetonius we know that at Caesar’s death the Jews in Rome flocked to his funeral with big lamentations, and it is even possible that some of them identified Caesar with the Messiah” (read livius.org on this, note 6.)

During the Middle Ages the life of the Roman Hebrews had its ups and downs but basically was not too bad. When though in 1517 Luther nailed the 95 theses that will split Western Christianity into Protestants and Catholics, a dark epoch of religious wars and fanaticism began.

On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV promulgated a Bull where all the rights of the Jewish community were cancelled and the Jewish Ghetto was walled and provided with gates.

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See part 2:

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

Related posts:

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

Julius Caesar’s Trapped Legion

Part of a display seen at Old Sarum in Wiltshire, 1998. Click for credits

54 BC, November. A typical grey rainy day in eastern Belgium. One of Julius Caesar’s legions plus 5 additional cohortes are wintering in the land of the Eburones, a German tribe. The other Roman legions are scattered far away in Gaul in their fortified camps, as was Caesar’s habit during winter. Caesar is heading towards Italia in order to take care of political matters.

The Eburones, commanded by their two kings, Ambiorix and Cativolcus, wipe out with a sudden attack a small group of Roman soldiers foraging for wood not far from their camp.

A parley thus began. Ambiorix (see below a statue dedicated to him in Tongeren, Belgium) told the Romans that a revolt was occurring in Gaul and that many Germans were about to pass the Rhine ready to join the Gauls against the Romans. He offered a safe passage towards other Roman camps fifty miles away.

The two Roman commanders, Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, began a heated discussion within the council. Cotta was for staying: they had enough food and the legion was well entrenched. Sabinus was instead for leaving. Caesar would never arrive in time, he said, and their only opportunity was following Ambiorix’s advice. Around midnight Cotta had to give up since Sabinus’ opinion had prevailed in the council and even the soldiers were for leaving the camp.

These soldiers were the least experienced among Caesar’s legions, enrolled just a few months earlier and used only as baggage guards in important battles.

At break of day the Roman force, more than seven thousand men, quit the camp marching not in battle order but in a very extended line and with a very large amount of baggage. This showed that Sabinus’ idea, that the Germans must be trusted, had prevailed among the Roman commanders except Cotta. The Eburones were concealed in a thick wood waiting for the Romans. When the Romans entered the wood they let them pass through and descend to a deep valley where they abruptly showed up on either side of it. The Romans realised they were encircled and trapped.

Statue of Ambiorix, on the Great Market of Tongeren in Belgium. Click for credits
Statue of Ambiorix, on the Great Market of Tongeren, Belgium. Click for credits

The Eburones, fearing to attack the Romans directly went high above them on both sides and started pouring down missiles and rocks on the heads of the Romans. Sabinus lost his head, since he knew he had led the Romans into a mortal ambush. But Cotta kept his cool and quickly had the column pulled into a square. The Roman force held on for an extraordinary 8 hours though the casualties augmented.

At this point Sabinus tried to parley with Ambiorix, but was slaughtered by the king himself during talk. The Eburones then charged down en masse and many other Romans died, including Cotta.

Some still kept formation and succeeded to get back to the camp fighting.

“There the survivors kept the Eburones out until nightfall, and then, to a man, committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the enemy.”

“If the baggage guard would fight all day with no hope of success and commit mass suicide rather than surrender, Rome’s enemies were going to be in serious trouble.”

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

Note. Freely inspired by the The Fall of the Roman Empire – A new history, by Peter Heather, Macmillan 2005, where the last two paragraphs are taken from; the episode is narrated by Julius Caesar in chapt. V of his De Bello Gallico. Here the English Gutenberg text)

France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome

The Roman Empire at its peak. Rome, via dei Fori Imperiali

Rome’s legacy is greater than we think – “language, literature, legal codes, government, architecture, engineering, medicine, sports, arts, etc.” – and the Roman Empire has been a powerful myth in the course of the centuries.

After Rome’s fall in 476 CE, the Holy Roman Empire, thus called since 962 CE, started to develop in 800 CE when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne in Rome as ‘Emperor and Augustus of the Romans’.

Such Empire, Frankish, Germanic (and later Austrian, dissolved in 1806 only) considered itself as the heir of the “First Rome” (the Western Roman Empire,) while the Hellenized Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, was called the “Second Rome” and remained unconquered until 1453 CE.

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When also Byzantium (Constantinople) fell, even the Islamic conqueror Ottoman Mehmed II thought he was continuing the power (and idea) of Rome and tried to “re-unite the Empire” although his march towards Italy was stopped in 1480 CE by both the Papal and Neapolitan armies.

After the fall of the Second Rome someone began to refer to Moscow as the “Third Rome“, since the Russian Tsars felt they were the inheritors of the Byzantine Empire’s Orthodox Christian tradition.

[2014 update: allow us to remind that the sovereigns of the two great continental empires dissolved in WWI, the German and the Russian, both bore the name of Kaiser and Tsar, id est Caesar.

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So many heirs of Rome! Seems like a futile historical game.

It is not.

Let us see how other nations went on claiming the Roman heritage.

The Victorians, the Italians and the USA

Benito Mussolini. Wikimedia. Public Domain

The British Victorians, for example, who felt they were somewhat the spiritual successors of the Romans.

Or both the Italian patriots, who unified Italy, and later the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

They felt like the heirs of ancient Rome and the creators (again) of a “Third Rome”: after the capital of the Pagan world – they argued – and after the capital of Catholicism, Rome was now to become the capital of a totally New World.

A disproportionate idea, without a doubt.

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And the Americans? They also like today to find similarities between their might and the superpower of the ancient times (try to google America, new, Rome: you’ll get an interesting number of results.)

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We will though today talk about France (skipping Spain for the sake of brevity.)

Can’t France in fact lay claims as well?

The First French Empire

France inherited many elements from Rome, after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar: language, food habits, behaviours, genes, technologies and a fundamental aestheticism, among the rest.

We have already mentioned the connection between Charlemagne and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. Less obvious are similarities like that between the French Foreign legion and the Roman legions as for training, combat habits, management of terrain (construction of roads etc.) and so on.

Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Wikimedia

Much more significant though is the state tradition of Rome which, according to some scholars, has been preserved in the French monarchic centralism and in the state national spirit of the French people.

The person who shaped this centralism (later continued by Napoleon) was probably Louis XIV (1638 –  1715, see image above,) one of the greatest kings ever. He was called the Sun King (le Roi Soleil) and was associated with Apollo Helios, the Greco-Roman god of the Sun. He also encouraged classicism in the arts and Voltaire compared him to the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Other great personages such as Napoleon Bonaparte (or even Charles de Gaulle, why not) bear the traces of the Roman heritage. Napoleon was inspired first by the Roman Republic. Roman-like, he became First Consul of the French Republic.

Then, after receiving the crown from Pope Pius VII (in Paris, this time) on December 2 1804, he became Emperor of the French people and encouraged a classicist Empire style in architecture, decorative arts, furniture and women’s dresses based on Ancient Hellenic attire (see below,) a style soon popular in most parts of Europe and its colonies.

Napoleon identified himself with Caesar, was continuously studying his works and succeeded in becoming one of the greatest generals ever, like Caesar and Alexander.

Empire silhouette Dresses. 1804. Metropolitan M. of Art. Fair use
Two dresses, ca. 1810. Courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org

The French and the Italians.
Who Envies Who?

Antonio Gramsci, in Notebook IX of his Prison Notebooks, reflects on some words written by Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) in Histoire d’un crime:

“Every man of heart has two fatherlands in this century: the Rome of the past and the Paris of today … This ancient fatherland – Gramsci argues – associated with the modern one supposes that France is the heir of Rome. Something that was said, and is especially said, today, to displease no small number of people.”

Well, something said to displease whom? Our philosopher probably referred mainly to the Britons and to the Italians.

Focusing on the Italians, one can wander and wonder with Gramsci whether a real francophilia ever existed in our country (Notebook XXVIII.)

France was always admired in Italy – Gramsci observes. France meant the French Revolution, the participation of a large share of the population to the political cultural and state life, it meant a decorous parliamentary activity and many other things that the young Italian state could not exhibit. The Italian francophiles have often concealed a strong dislike and a substantial envy.

I would add that some envy is also felt today by our French cousins when they behold our historical richness, the beauties of our towns etc.

This envy surfaces every time we do something better: with soccer, Ferrari, with the world-wide diffusion of our cuisine & fashion – and so forth.

But let us do ourselves a favour. Let us be honest.

If the French may envy us, we envy them more.

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

Related posts:

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow
Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When West / North Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)

Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna

Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste
Temple of Fortuna Primigenia in modern Palestrina (ancient Praeneste)

Italian translation

We have been talking about survivals of the Roman religion.

Of the goddess Fortuna or goddess of Luck remain at least today 1) our recurrent personification of Fortune; 2) something of the oracular function of this deity, linked to future-telling; 3) one of her emblems, the wheel, a symbol of mutability in human life.

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1. Personification. When we use phrases like “they invoked their fortune” or “the tricks of fortune” we have here a personification of something capricious which is deeply impressed in our mind and that can be traced back to the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna.

A tetradrachm from Hardrian's (76 – 138 AD) time, with Fortuna holding rudder and cornucopia
A tetradrachm (a silver coin) from Hardrian’s (76 – 138 AD) times, with Fortuna holding rudder and cornucopia. Click for credits and for both sides of the coin

2. Future-telling. Not far from Rome, in Antium and in Praeneste, were two well-known shrines of the goddess Fortuna. The Romans went there to know about their future, among the rest. At the oracle in Praeneste connected to the impressive sanctuary (see remnants on top) of Fortuna Primigenia (the fortune of a firstborn child at the moment of birth), a small boy gave oak rods to temple-goers, called sortes (lots), with words on them that revealed their future.

Similarly, we go today to the ‘fortune teller’ to get predictions about our fortune, namely our future. If these two words, fortune and future, are synonyms in this context it is also because of the ancient oracular (future-telling) role of the Roman goddess Fortune.

Wheel of Fortune in Singapore. Fair use3. The Wheel of Fortune. I think very few spectators of the Wheel of Fortune, one of the most popular TV shows ever produced, suspect they are in front of a fossil from the ancient Romans. Fortuna was in fact often represented standing on a ball or close to a wheel indicating that our future is as uncertain as the random spinning of a wheel (or the random rolling of a sphere.) She also bore a cornucopia, which symbolized abundance, and a rudder as controller of man’s destiny (see Hardrian’s tetradrachm above.)

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Only the wheel though survived and this was probably due, among the rest, to the influence of a great book, Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, an author descendant of a noble Roman family which issued emperors and consuls.

The tomb of philosopher Severinus Boetius
The tomb of Roman philosopher Severinus Boetius (early 6th cent. AD) in the crypt of the church of San Pietro in Pavia, Italy (Wikipedia: click for source)

Cicero had already mentioned the wheel but it was Boethius’ philosophical work that made the goddess Fortune and her wheel so popular in the Middle Ages (read Boethius’ text here):

I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected … she turns her wheel of chance with haughty hand … This is her sport: thus she proves her power; if in the selfsame hour one man is raised to happiness, and cast down in despair,’ tis thus she shews her might.

The Benediktbeuernm, a monastery founded in 739 AD. The Carmina Burana manuscript was there found, later set to music by Carl Orff. Written mainly in Medieval Latin; a few in Old French and Provençal; some vernacular, Latin, German & French mixed up. Click for credits and to enlarge
The Benediktbeuernm, a monastery founded in 739 AD. The Carmina Burana manuscript was there found, later set to music by Carl Orff. Written mainly in Medieval Latin; a few in Old French and Provençal; some vernacular, Latin, German & French mixed up. Click for credits and to enlarge

We’ll conclude by mentioning how in 1803 AD some mostly-in-Latin medieval poems ( 228 ) were found in the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuern.

This collection, written around 1230 and now known as Carmina Burana, satirized the Church and was created by university students at a time when Latin was the European lingua franca. Some poems are dedicated to Fortuna and her wheel.

In 1937 the German composer Carl Orff put into music some of these texts. The most famous composition is “O Fortuna“, incidentally, which opens and closes the work.

While listening you might want to read the Latin original, with an English translation (source.)

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O Fortuna / velut luna
(O Fortune like the moon)
statu variabilis
(you are changeable)
semper crescis / aut decrescis;
(ever waxing and waning;)

vita detestabilis / nunc obdurat
(hateful life first oppresses)
et tunc curat / ludo mentis aciem,
(and then soothes as the sharp mind takes it;)
egestatem, / potestatem
(poverty and power)
dissolvit ut glaciem.
(it melts them like ice.)

Sors immanis / et inanis,
(Fate monstrous and empty,)
rota tu volubilis, / status malus,
(you whirling wheel, you are malevolent,)
vana salus / semper dissolubilis,
(well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,)
obumbrata / et velata
(shadowed and veiled)
michi quoque niteris;
(you plague me too;)
nunc per ludum / dorsum nudum
(now through the game I bring my bare back)
fero tui sceleris.
(to your villainy.)

Sors salutis / et virtutis / michi nunc contraria,
(Fate is against me in health and virtue,)
est affectus / et defectus
(driven on and weighted down,)
semper in angaria.
(always enslaved.)
Hac in hora / sine mora
(So at this hour without delay)
corde pulsum tangite;
(pluck the vibrating strings;)
quod per sortem / sternit fortem,
(since Fate strikes down the strong man,)
mecum omnes plangite!
(everyone weep with me!)

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

Related posts:

An additional note on Roman Fortuna
Survivals of Roman religion

Sex and the City (of Rome). 2

Lovers. Herculaneum Fresco. Public Domain
Lovers. Herculaneum Fresco. Public Domain

Italian version

As we have said in the first post regarding Sex and the city of Rome the ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude towards sex and enjoyed a sensuality open to possibilities whose variety can confuse contemporary people (in spite of what we Westerners think of our sexual liberation) to the extent that what we are about to narrate could offend people’s feelings. We therefore ask for pardon but we also make known to minors and prudish people to please not read any further.

God Priapus' weighing his phallus. House of the Vettii, Pompeii
God Priapus ‘weighing himself’. Fresco from the House of the Vettii, Pompeii. Click for credits and to enlarge

Open sensuality? Yes, since for example the sacred poet Virgil probably sighed for Alexis, a beautiful boy; Horace celebrated incest, adultery and sex with female slaves; Ovid, Petronius and Catullus went a lot further (we might see later); not to mention the Roman phallic festivals like the Liberalia, held on the 17th of March …

“… where a monstrous phallus was carried in procession in a car… and the most respectable of the matrons ceremoniously crowned the head of the phallus with a garland”, or festivals like the Bacchanalia where similarly a huge phallus was carried and “as in the Liberalia, the festivities being carried on into the night, as the celebrators became heated with wine, they degenerated into the extreme of licentiousness, in which people indulged without a blush in the most infamous vices.”

This is Victorian Thomas Wright‘s opinion (1810-1877, English antiquarian and writer), not Man of Roma’s (see the Wright’s original text where our two quotes are from.)

Auguste (Maurice François Giuslain) Léveque (1864-1921). Bacchanalia. Public Domain
Auguste (Maurice François Giuslain) Léveque (1864-1921). Bacchanalia. Public Domain

Before trying to understand what is left today of these distant habits (the post title actually refers to survivals of ancient behaviours in today’s world, we’ll see why), we are going to provide a few detailed illustrations of this freer (or different, in any case) attitude .

So we’ll start by mentioning a Roman goddess, Dea Bona (‘Good Goddess’) and a scandal occurred at the time of great Julius Caesar.

Roman Dea Bona

Roman Bona Dea (Good Goddess)
Roman Bona Dea (Good Goddess)

In Roman religion Dea Bona (Latin for ‘Good Goddess’) was a “deity of fruitfulness, both in the earth and in women … The dedication day of her temple on the Aventine was celebrated May 1. Her temple was cared for and attended by women only, and the same was the case at a second celebration, at the beginning of December, in the house of the Pontifex Maximus [the chief Roman Priest, today’s Pope being still the Pontifex Maximus of Rome], where the Pontifex’s wife and the Vestal Virgins ran the ceremony.” (Bona Dea. 2007. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 9, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.)

I wonder if the online Britannica is exact here, since the December celebration was conducted “by the wife of the senior magistrate present in Rome in his home” (any senior magistrate then: Pontifex, consul etc.). In fact, according to Plutarch (2nd cent. A.D., Life of Cicero 19.3, 20.1-2) when Cicero was consul, the day he made the famous speech which is known as his third Catiline oration, he was escorted in the night “to the house of a friend and neighbour; his own being occupied by women who were celebrating the secret rites of the goddess whom the Romans call Bona.”

Dea Bona’s Image
Roman Bona Dea

The December festival was more interesting than the May one since “it was not held in the goddess’ temple … it was an invitation-only affair and pretty exclusive”. The wife of the magistrate managed the whole thing during the night, all was secret and occurred in a context of classy luxury (quote from here.)

What was happening during these secret-sacred rites from which men were strictly excluded? Surely it was something like a mystery cult, hence little we know about it (maybe you can find something in Macrobius’ Saturnalia). According to the Latin poet Juvenal, who wrote his satires many generations later (but who was also probably a bit of a misogynist), the Bona rites included drunken orgies among women (Juvenalis Sat. vi, l. 314):

“Well known to all are the mysteries
of the Good Goddess,
when the flute stirs the loins
and the Maenads of Priapus sweep along,
frenzied alike by the horn-blowing and the wine,
whirling their locks and howling.
What foul longings burn within their breasts!
What cries they utter as the passion palpitates within!
How drenched their limbs in torrents of old wine!
Saufeia challenges the slave-girls to a contest….”

(See a complete version in English prose of Juvenal Satire 6, plus the same passage in Latin verses).

Well, what happened in the house of Julius Caesar according to Plutarch seems to confirm Juvenal’s opinion. Let’s see why.

Sacrilege in Julius Caesar’s house

Two Roman Women. Fair use

Dramatis personae

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The scandal broke during the Dea Bona December ceremonies in 62 BC, when Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus. This is why the celebration took place in his house. Caesar of course was absent, being a man. The way it all developed seems to confirm Juvenal’s view, as we have said.

As Plutarch writes, our great source of the Ancient world (Life of Caesar 9-10):

“(9.1) Publius Clodius was a man of noble birth and notable for his wealth and reputation, but not even the most notorious scoundrels came close to him in insolence and audacity. Clodius was in love with Caesar’s wife Pompeia, and she was not unwilling. But a close watch was kept on the women’s apartment, and Caesar’s mother Aurelia followed the young wife around and made it difficult and dangerous for the lovers to meet.”

“(9.3) The Romans have a goddess whom they call Good… It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony.”

“(10.1) At the time [when the incident occurred] Pompeia was celebrating this ritual; Clodius did not yet have a beard and for this reason thought that he would escape detection if he were dressed up as [woman] lyre-player, and went into the house looking like a young woman. He found the doors open and was led in without difficulty by a slave-woman who was in on the plot; this woman went to Pompeia and told her, and some time passed, but Clodius could not bear to wait, and as he was wandering around the large house and trying to avoid the lights, one of Aurelia’s [female] attendants got hold of him, and asked him to play with her, as one woman might with another, and when he refused, she dragged him before the others and asked who he was and where he came from.”

“(10.3) Clodius said that he was waiting for Pompeia’s slave Abra (which happened to be the woman’s name), and gave himself away by his voice. The [woman] attendant dashed away from him towards the lights and the crowd, shouting that she had caught a man. The women were terrified, and Aurelia called a halt to the rites of the goddess and hid the sacred objects; she ordered the doors to be shut and went around the house with torches, looking for Clodius. He was found in the room that belonged to the girl where he had gone in an attempt to escape. When he was discovered, he was taken through the doors by the women and thrown out of the house. That night the women went right off and told their husbands about the affair, and during the day the story spread through the city that Clodius had been involved in sacrilege and had committed injustice against not only those he had insulted, but the city and the gods.

“(10.5) Clodius was indicted for sacrilege by one of the tribunes, and the most influential senators joined forces against him and testified about other dreadful outrages he had committed and his incest with his sister.”

[Her name was Clodia – prob. the slutty Lesbia loved by Catullus – a perpetual scandal like her brother Clodius. We’ll probably talk about her again, it is important in our view of Roman sex. In the painting below you can see Catullus visiting aristocratic Lesbia’s mansion, a nice work by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 – 1912,) an interesting painter of late nineteenth century Britain]

Catullus at Lesbia’s by Sir Laurence Alma Tadema. 1836-1912. 1865

[Online Britannica: “In December 62, when the winter ceremony of the Bona Dea (from which men were excluded) was celebrated in the house of Julius Caesar, a man believed to be Clodius was discovered disguised as a female harpist among the participants. Charged with incestum he was tried before the Senate…Caesar divorced his wife in suspicion that she had admitted Clodius to the ceremony….Clodius maintained he had been at Interamna, 90 miles (145 km) from Rome, on the day in question, but Cicero, who abused the defendant intemperately, presented evidence to the contrary. Clodius was acquitted, perhaps because the jury had been bribed, but immediately began to devise ways to revenge himself on Cicero.” (Clodius Pulcher, Publius. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 9 Dec. 2007) ]

Plutarch (10.6): “Caesar immediately divorced Pompeia, but when he was summoned as a witness in the trial said that he knew nothing about the accusations against Clodius. The prosecutor asked him about the apparent contradiction: ‘why then did you divorce your wife?’ He answered, ‘because I thought my wife should be above suspicion’….Clodius was acquitted because most of the jurors handed in their opinions in illegible writing, so that they would not endanger themselves with the common people by voting against him, or disgrace themselves with the nobility by letting him off.”

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I think the reason Caesar supported Clodius was because they belonged to the same common people (democratic) party. Clodius was popular and influential therefore deemed useful by Caesar for his own political career.

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Related posts:

Sex and the city (of Rome) 1
Sex and the city (of Rome) 3
Sex and the city (of Rome) 4
Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion.

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

New Subura

Birth of Venus by French Adolphe Bouguereau (1879)

Roman Subura, New and Old

Suburra (Italian name for Latin Subura) refers to the slums district of ancient Rome, full of “disreputable locals and brothels” (sort of a red-light district, if you prefer) and inhabited by low-class Romans together with people, mainly poor immigrants, from all over the Empire (quoted from here where you get infos on location of Subura in modern Rome). Modern rione Monti corresponds to a part of it.

Julius Caesar “grew up in a home in the Subura district (Wikipedia) even though he came of the most aristocratic origins.” I won’t talk of ancient Subura though. I will instead bring up what seems to me the New Subura, namely the area around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, not far from Termini Railway Station (see picture below from Google Maps).

Piazza Vittorio, at the centre of multi-ethnic Rome. Google Maps, hybrid view. Fair Use

While cutting across the rione almost every morning in order to catch the subway line-A train I feel this intoxicating aura of exoticism pervading the area and reminding me of some corners of Bombay, the city of wonders and my favourite Indian city. Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Africans, Eastern-Europeans etc. crowd these orthogonal streets making them tremendously vibrant.

Mafias, prostitution and illegal activities flourish here of course (thence the analogy with ancient Subura) but on the whole the place and Rome are starting to profit from all this, especially now that the big money is arriving.

So Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is right at the centre of new multi-ethnic Rome.

Piazza Vittorio is actually the New Subura.

New found Pride

One month ago, while I was desperately trying to catch my train to my office, I saw some Chinese youngsters possibly doing their Tai Chi Chuan gymnastics on the grass in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele Gardens, a magnificent park that occupies the greatest part of this huge rectangular porticoed piazza, the biggest in Rome, built after the unification of Italy by architect Gaetano Koch between 1882 and 1887. These Chinese faces looked very self-assured, I couldn’t but notice. They were very focused on their activity, with curious passers-by gathering around them.

Tai Chi Chuan. Fair use

To the history-addicted the place is somewhat ghostly because it used to be the place of witches, assassins and slaves’ executions during ancient Roman Republican times. The piazza is in fact located at the top of the Esquiline Hill, the highest of the Seven Hills, a no man’s land at the edge of Subura until emperor Augustus redeemed it and which revealed its horrors more than 2000 years later during the public works conducted by architect Gaetano Koch who found vast carnage pits dating back to the Republican Roman era.

The park also contains the famous Porta Alchemica or alchemic door (XVII century AD) which, according to some alchemists, could reveal the secret of the philosopher’s stone in its engraved symbols (so, Harry Potter‘s fans, open well your eyes: you might discover the secret of secrets. See the alchemic door picture below – Wikimedia Commons. Same image at a higher resolution here).

Porta alchemica. Gnu free documentation license. Low res

Totally unaware of all this spooky past these young Chinese faces seemed to me a totally new generation. Many Romans in their uncaring attitude have not noticed the difference, useless to say. Chinese people are all over the place in New Subura, attending customers in shops and stores, working energetically in restaurants and at bar tables or having some relax at open-air cafes.

Trendy-clothed teenagers – pretty high-heeled girls with weird-coloured hair and macho-looking T-shirted boys – meet in the evening at the renowned Fassi’s Palace of Ice(cream) close-by (Palazzo del Freddo), one of the most ancient ice-cream shops in Italy, located in 65, Via Principe Eugenio.

How all is changing so fast. Customers at Fassi are now much more mixed up and how terribly hard-working these Far-Eastern people seem compared to us and even to some Honk-Kong Chinese friends who are westernised and really admire the incredible hardiness of the unspoiled mainland Chinese.

They do not seem keen to show their feelings though (both the mainland and the HK Chinese). It is the reason why they look so enigmatic to Romans, or marble-faced (this is how I tease my HK friends, not deprived of some nice UK sense of humour). The simple truth, I think, is that they are just shy.

It is now three-four years that the Roman Chinese and Indians have sort of come out of this psychological ghetto every immigrant initially finds into (Italians know too well, having being, as immigrants, scattered all over the world), their eyes less elusive and their facial expressions franker (and prouder). Indian faces are more expressive, being more similar to us in their non-verbal communication (we have blood in common, after all). Chinese are marble-faced instead lol, whatever HK guys may say 🙂

Sikhs from all over Italy gather in Piazza Vittorio. Baisakhi festival (Repubblica) fair use

Is Rome Adapting to the Future?

Caught out by a swiftly growing immigration phenomenon the Romans are starting to overreact every now and then, although on the whole they preserve this good-natured, I-couldn’t-care-less type of behaviour (called menefreghismo bonario) which indeed characterizes them and which is typical of a folk who really saw everything in the course of their history. Is such menefreghismo (or chissenefrega attitude) anachronistic today, not providing a sufficiently powerful barrier against Roman possible mounting decline (and Italian & European)?

I don’t remember who said: “I wish we will not live in an interesting age”.

What has to be understood is that this multicultural / multiracial situation is rather recent here compared to places like London or Paris (not to mention America). Rome, we believe, is nevertheless trying to adapt to the future, her somewhat economic success providing evidence of this reaction capability (local economic figures are growing faster than the Italian annual GDP increase).

To this success residing foreigners are contributing, it is hard to deny.

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Related posts:

Rome. Stepmother or Alma Mater?

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow

Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia

Italian translation

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

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

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

Adrenaline

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

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

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

Even his most exciting literary work, De Bello Gallico

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

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

lupaottimigut1.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

ψ

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

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

Waterloo Helmet

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

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

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

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

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Related posts:

Vercingétorix, le dernier roi des Gaules

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

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