Rome, April 2004, 6 am. A cold but bright morning. I am sitting in my terrace, looking at the Roman rooftops. It’s almost dawn and I’m cold. I had two sisters and 8 female first cousins,you know, and I met him at 3. He therefore became myeldest brother.
My Eldest Brother
I’ve heard him on the phone last night, after many years of silence. So now on the first shred of paper I’ve found I’m quickly jotting down, here on my terrace, the words I got in my head before I forget them.
Words thrown spontaneously – and a bit wild too, perhaps.
1950s-1960s remote, antediluvian stuff?
God knows. We lived in immediate post-war Italy, a different world altogether. Judge for yourself.
To My Eldest Brother
My friend, companion of happy adventures
during the prime of life,
at 6 am in a Roman morning,
a cold breeze running over the rooftops
of a pagan city,
you, companion and brother,
I come to celebrate
as in an ancient rite,
a pencil splashing words
on a page, rapidly,
words alive, unlaboured.
You taught me to enjoy this life,
its primordial side and strength;
I, more fearful,
brought up in a world of women,
the manly ways
by you was taught,
the male attributes, or nuts,
you always had,
and have: do not forget!
Oh fuck, male attributes,
may the Lord be thanked!
In a world
full of empty jaded phony people,
you were example, always,
friend and brother,
of strength and courage,
more than my father was.
You – and my mother’s brothers,
so dear and much beloved.
My father, though,
who meant a lot to me,
from him I took a few things.
But you were vast to me.
One more year is a lot
when one is a child,
A primacy, it establishes,
I’ve always recognized you.
Here, now, on this small terrace
facing the city of Rome,
in front of the ancient temples
of our primeval culture,
I you honour, brother,
I you celebrate, my friend,
that primacy still recognizing
that wasn’t only of age.
At this point red wine I’d drink
(but it’s early in the morning…)
the full-bodied red, Tuscan wine
of our wonderful winter evenings
(in our Arezzo countryside: do you recall?)
when, meat roasted over embers,
the Dionysian pleasures
of meat and wine you did deliver
and of the women
grabbed by the hair
and gently, strongly,
The breeze is warmer.
and words begin to fail.
I only hope,
my friend & strong companion
& ‘eldest brother’,
to have conveyed you
memories & emotions
during abrupt awakening
after a telephone call.
[Geraldine, a Dubliner blogger, made the translation from the Italian original; I, now (20 oct 2018) totally remade it. This dear Celtic woman is btw not responsible for the four letter word – f@#k, I have decided to use, not her]
Joys (and sorrows) we had in our relationship, but all was lived with exuberance and almost violent intensity.
He had a beautiful house across from mine but when we first met over the wall at 3-4 years of age (I was alone, he with his grandma, a gentle lady as from an old-time painting, ) we did not like each other at all. He looked prissy and too well-groomed to my taste.
Then one day his mother took him to our house for an official visit (the two mums were close friends). Disturbed we were a bit so we began to throw pebbles at a can placed on a stone table at 10 yards from where we were, just to kill moodiness.
The throwing-pebbles-at-a-can thing triggered ALL. We have never left each other since then (apart from a few intervals.) Thing being, our brains knew how to fly together, and we laughed and laughed and we laughed out loud. His mind, odd and humorous, rich with ideas, well connected with mine.
In the picture below I am 18. From then on we had the first break. A long one.
Now that we are old, we feel even closer and there won’t be intervals any more.
It’s this desire we have to stay close at the end of a marvellous adventure we did begin together, in the company also of the loved ones from his side and from my side – who make our life more humane (and who console us of its miseries.)
In “Vivere alla massima espressione” (Living to our fullest potential) Dario Bernazza provides a list of the major problems we have to solve in order to live a life “worthy of being lived”.
[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989]
It is the first of Bernazza’s books we stumbled upon and the reason we were first captured (and which kept us reading) was the fact that a similar list was handed over to us by our mentor since the first days of our encounter (above you can see The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787.)
Well, not that we think Bernazza is like Socrates. He though refers a lot to Socrates’ thought, plus certainly Magister, our mentor, was a bit like a Socrates to us.
If liabilities (sufferings) exceed the assets (every pleasant moment, satisfaction or success) our life is a failure (and it would be preferable not to have come into this world). If the contrary occurs, our life is happy and fruitful (or advantageous, as CP puts it).
Liabilities though are not avoidable and are inflicted on us without any mercy, while the assets are not given us as a gift, and we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.
By providing the best possible solutionto the major problems of our life. This is our only way of diverting or softening our life liabilities.
The Happiness List
Let us then look at these major issues which, according to CP, we must necessarily address in the best possible way. They are 20. Yes, 20. Exactly. Bernazza is always a bit categorical. Here is the list.
1. Defining a purpose in life
2. Keeping ourselves in good health
3. Serenity of soul
8. Being reasonably well-off
9. Enjoyment, beauty and the exquisite
10. Loneliness, ennui and feeling of emptiness
11. Choice of studies, job, career
12. Choosing where to live
13. Our behaviour towards others
14. Embracing ‘good’ as an irreversible choice
15. Excess and vice
16. Being equipped with an adequate ethical instrumentation
17. Happiness is a long, sensible (and attainable) personal conquest
18. Will is power
19. Being convinced of the enormous power of honesty
20. The necessity of carefully planning our life
Since we cannot report on every single point of the list, only 2-3 points will be analysed (here and in future posts). As far as the rest, we will only touch upon the things that struck us most.
1. The Purpose of Life
Our life, like a long and complex journey, has to set its goal. So, which is this goal and how can we define it? The argumentation of CP is clear and simple (and probably naïve, but I cannot but feel some truth in it): Since our life is the only chance of existing we have, after which we will disappear (CP is an agnostic who considers probable our annihilation after death), one should be really convinced that the most irreparable of errors is that of not trying our best to live to the highest possible degree. If our existence is nothing but a blink between two eternities (theories of modern physicists do not seem to interest CP) the purpose of life is necessarily that of living this sole life we have to our fullest potential.
Every single day must be lived to our best, and we must continuously improve this capacity of living to our fullest. This is why we should not ask ourselves – says CP – “why do I exist” (a question we can answer via the twisted efforts of our imagination only) but rather: “how do I exist?”.
The problem is that very few people know what is most convenient to us in our everyday choices, i.e. we do not know what actions shall bring us happiness or sorrow (this previous post discusses this point). If we knew – argues CP – the number of unhappy people around would be smaller. This is why learning how to solve the main problems of life (the list, again) will diminish our life’s liabilities and allow us to live in the best possible way.
I know. It was time for Sex and the City of Rome part 2. I haven’t got time though because my method post has been too long to write. I cannot live inside a blog all day long. So I will postpone SEX SEX SEX though you weirdos pls don’t worry. Sex will arrive soon, no doubt about that. It will probably be serious sometimes a bit (I’m not here to write a porn site) but it surely will also be erotic. Don’t worry then you pervs, and stay tuned.. 😉
I was lucky enough to be saved in extremis by this e-mail exchange which happened not long ago. This Indonesian ex student of mine wrote me this peculiar letter. She is of Malaysian-Chinese descent. Here’s what she said:
“I just quarrelled with her again, because of her phone call. She calls me every day to check if I get back home on time. I got angry and we started to quarrel. I asked her: why do you always call me lately? She said she just missed me. But I told her it was an excuse, it was because of one of her bad dreams about ghosts. And I asked her: did you perceive there is a ghost alive at my home? My mother did not say anything…”
“Another time she firmly suggested me to stay at home after I had just informed her I wanted to take a 3-days holiday to have some break from job stress. She objected. I told her: do you want me to become crazy? Then I hang up the phone abruptly”.
“You know, they believe so much in ghosts in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. She thinks I am protected at home because of these Buddha’s little statues”.
I replied to her:
“Dear ***. I hope you do not believe in all this silly stuff. I have something to tell you. A guy from our Roman rionehad a friend, his best friend – he told me. When they were very young they promised to each other to come visit which of the two was still alive if one of them died first. Anyway, it was like a game, but not so much after all, since they were both actually very determined, if anything like that happened. I mean, the one who’d die earlier would really try to visit his still-alive friend if he happened to die first.”
“Well, guess what. Hazard (or Fortune) decreed that actually this guy’s best friend had a terrible accident and died. So the poor fellow was totally scared to death because he KNEW that, if ghosts really existed, his best friend would definitely come visit him.
He could not sleep for MONTHS, you can well imagine.
The ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude toward sex (so pls the minor or the puritanical shouldn’t read further.)
Suffice it to have a look at these statues, both beautiful and erotic, to intuitively grasp a sensuality that was open and entirely different from the Western manners of today.
The beauty and natural perfection of these bodies convey in fact the idea – a very simpleidea, this very gifted Greek student I recently met would say – that sex wasn’t perceived as lewd or licentious; it was felt instead as one of the joys of life.
It is so simple: as simple (and beautiful)
as a Greek temple.
Sex was actually enjoyed naturally though in ways most contemporary folks wouldn’t even imagine, especially when we consider thatthese statues were somehow linked to rituals and religion.
We can admire above the perfect classical beauty of Venus Kallipygos, while, below, the statue of a Satyr (which a Roman female friend of mine chose among a set and assured me:‘it’sa pretty good erotic sample.’ Well, I couldn’t but yield to her superior discernment.)
Venus was the Goddess of love (both carnal and spiritual) while a Satyr was a Dionysian creature lover of wine, women and boys, and ready for every physical pleasure. Child satyrs existed also (which appears a sad thing to us, nowadays) and took part in Bacchanalian/Dionysian religious rituals, usually (or sometimes) involving orgies too.
At this point I’m sure every reader cannot but agree that the Greco-Romans had a VERY different attitude toward sex. No doubt about that. An ENTIRELY different attitude indeed.
If we could forget that these are classical statues, if we could regard them just as they appear to us and out of their context, we’d surely see them as pornographic.
According to the Wikipedia:
“the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. …When large scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality, and endeavored to hide them away ….. The moveable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples, Italy.”
[For more on these Pompeii erotic artifacts: this post of ours; two other posts, 1 and 2, from Ancient Digger, the former showing a video on the erotic artifacts, the latter discussing Roman sexuality & erotic art; a BBC program on the secret museum. Further readings are listed at the bottom of the page]
Shocking Roman Sexuality
I do not quite agree with Wikipedia on how and when the modern concept of pornography was conceived, seeming this to me a totally Anglo-Saxon centred observation, forgetful of how history can be ancient [a stupid – and not true – thing to say, october 6, 2019].
I might be wrong (or right) but who the hell cares, chissenefrega, this whole Victorian thing being incredibly funny.
I can see these prudish Victorians feeling themselves as the heirs of the Romans (which actually they were, at least in my view) who much to their horror found out how perverted the Romans had been (at least in their view), while together with the Italians they were uncovering all these sexy statues and frescoes.
I am imagining their shocked pale faces and am especially fantasizing about their shamefully and hastily helping the Neapolitans to hide somewhere the abominable truth.
The Neapolitans, incidentally, were at that time probably laughing at them a bit too, being of course much less disturbed by all those “frank depictions of sexuality” (try to guess why, dear reader … ).
Getting back to the Ancients, this Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks is uncovering herself and looking back (and down) in order to evaluate her perfect behind.
The reason is again very simple (and very erotic, I’ll confess.) All originated from a buttock contest between two gorgeous sisters.
For which reason, who knows, this statue dedicated to Venus-Aphrodite might exactly represent both the winner and her behind. I mean – it’s sheer historical interest, of course – there’s a chance we are looking at her real ass (not at usual idealized hindquarters according to Greek aesthetics.)
And, the self-evaluation of her buttocks – pretty sure of that – was even more obvious than it appears today since statues were mostly painted in full colour, therefore the direction of her gaze was probably more evident, her pupils being painted.
This cult of Venus-Aphrodite with beautiful buttocks appeared in Greek Syracuse (Sicily, Italy,) according to some ancient author, since this is where the sisters apparently lived.
Again, needless to say, it would be inconceivable nowadays to dedicate a sanctuary, a holy place, to a goddess because of a girl’s hot butttocks (read in the Wikipedia the whole peculiar story of the two lovely sisters.)
Venus was the goddess of beauty, fertility and love.
The Roman Venus was born around Lavinium, according to Strabo. If true it was not by chance since Aeneas, the great Roman ancestor and son of Venus, landed in that area and founded the town after the name of Lavinia, his wife. The Romans by the way were children of Venus and of Mars, the God of War: love and war – a weird mix, isn’t it.
This I am thinking while strolling between the Colosseum, to my left, and the temple of Venus and Roma, to my right, between these symbols of life and death. How multihued the Romans were.
The Greek Aphrodite was instead born in Cyprus – where the Greek student comes from, although I do not believe in signs, like Brasilian Coelho does.
Young couples gathered close to the Venus temples for petting, necking and even coupling (green areas with temples where common in Rome.) People were probably discreet but what is interesting is that their loving felt somehow enhanced, even sanctified, by the presence of the Goddess, which is again unimaginable today despite our so-called sexual freedom.
Think of a today’s scenario where men and women flock near a Catholic or an Anglican, or a Lutheran church, in spring time, or in any time, for petting and all. I mean, even the mere thought could offend a true Christian.
Of course I do ask for pardon though please it’d also be nice if religious people did some effort as well. We are not here to offend religion(s) nor to make a porn site out this blog (which could make us richer though not necessarily happier.) We are here to talk about the Western roots. Now it turns these ancient Greeks & Romans had entirely different sexual mores.
Is it good? Is it bad? Hard to say. We somehow prefer the ancient customs though it is our personal opinion. That is, we love to think Sex to equal Beauty, love and sex to be a sublime joy that shouldn’t be necessarily related to reproduction (like ALL Popes tried endlessly to teach us.)
An Oppressive Revolution
OK, one might say. If these are our Western roots, what the hell has then happened? Why had we to undergo such an oppressive revolution which turned one of the joys of life into something indecent?
Was it because of the Victorians? Because of the Muslims? Was it because of the Christian priests and Fathers?
Perhaps the Victorians had later some influence on India, a country were the Kama Sutra was written, the first great text about love and sexual intercourse – beautiful, poetic and scientific – and the Victorians arrived with their not entirely positive influence in this field of human life …
As for the West I am sure the answer is to be found during the times when the Roman Empire turned into a Christian Roman Empire, hence from Emperor Constantine onward (4th century AD.)
Not immediately though. It took some time, it surely took some time before we became totally repressed.
The Christians were mainly responsible, in my opinion, for this change of attitude (and for atrocities committed against non-Christians soon after Christianity took over), but it’d be fair to add that numerous pagans had already become a bit more puritanical as a reaction to the excesses of the previous ages.
One last thing. Are anywhere to be found survivals of such ancient freer attitude towards sex?
I believe so. We have said (Braudel had said) that great civilisations do not die. Plus we had entitled this post Permanences III (but changed its title later.)
Ok. Let’s not spoil what is next in the Sex and the city (of Rome) series.
A Roman Invoking Venus
1) with this Roman copy of Castor and Pollux, or Dioscuri (youths of Zeus) by Praxiteles, Madrid (see below) – also enthusiastically approved by my female friend;
2) with Lucretius’ initial prayer to Venus.
Lucretius is a great Roman poet. From his verses one can get a good feel of how a real Ancient Roman felt about Venus.
So it is a pretty good conclusion for this Sex and the Romans num. 1 post.
If you are lucky enough to appreciate these verses you’ll live a unique experience, a real time-machine experience. This also classics offer, a time-machine experience.
Try to read these words attentively. You might penetrate the mysteries of a lost, arcane – though still living, still living – world …
“Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands- for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!
For soon as comes the springtime face of day,
And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,
First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,
Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,
And leap the wild herds round the happy fields
Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,
Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee
Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,
And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,
Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,
Kindling the lure of love in every breast,
Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,
Kind after kind. And since ’tis thou alone
Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught
Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,
Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,
Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse
Which I presume on Nature to compose
For Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be
Peerless in every grace at every hour-
Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words
Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love-
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!.”
Of The Nature of Things [De Rerum Natura]
by Lucretius [Titus Lucretius Carus]
(Initial invocation to Venus)
1) Because I am a dilettante philosopher who is not content with just blogging. I need a method in my blogging.
2) I had promised a method post, so it is very Roman-like to keep my promise 🙂
Truth being the method governing my posts keeps bugging me since I started this blog, and, needing to process my ideas a bit I propose this posting sequence to readers:
I) a post as a preparation for the method post (ugh!). It’s the present post. I need it for clearing my mind up before the real thing.
II) A post on SEX, as a break. It might help not to lose ALL my readers because of my philosophical manias.
III) The real thing, i.e. the method post.
IV) A second post on SEX, to beg for additional pardon, thus ending this sequence in full regalia.
What do you think? Will you pardon me? Will SEX help?
Rhetorical questions not expecting answers let us put some preparatory ideas together and that the trip begin!
Game of Ideas
with Hidden Links
1) We will touch upon questions from numerous points of view, as if for each topic there were like a dialogue of different opinions in the writer’s mind.
2) A thought in progress where who is writing is gradually clarifying his ideas. Such ideas might contradict one another because the writer is constantly reaching new (sometimes opposite) perspectives, which could baffle the reader but also help her/him understand the complexity of things.
3) A game of ideas, then, with anecdotes and facts only apparently deprived of connections. Such connections (mental links) will sometimes be explicit (said) or implicit (unsaid,) which should bring the reader to make her/his own connections, namely towards creative non-passive reading / thinking.
Well, at least Magister was very successful in this game. But Magister was Magister.
Writing vs Thinking
Writing, thinking, clarifying,
striving to sort out thoughts
in ways so “clear and ordinate”
This, many years ago, Magister counselled
for the good education of the mind.
writer, philosopher, educator…
Writing in fact is a stern discipline linked to the activity of thinking. Writing teaches us how to think in wayssoclear and ordinate. It obliges us to. Reason and word (word = discourse, written or oral) are actually only one word in Greek: λόγος (logos.)
Awkward prose or clumsy oral / written reports often reflect muddled thoughts.
As for the MoR the problem is:
writing in a foreign language makes things harder
we have this fatal attraction for digressions and all their unrestrained associations, ie for chaos (something Magister definitely wouldn’t condone.)
We like both sides of the moon – the dark indistinct and the crystal-clear. We appreciate discipline, clear argumentation, polished sentences, and we also dig lush jungles of words. Examples of both attitudes in art are:
The perfect equilibrium of Western Classical Music: Mozart, Boccherini, Clementi, Haydn and young Beethoven. Or of Italian Opera: Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti etc. wrongly called romantic, since Italian Opera is classical in its nature (and even Puccini is.) Interesting how Italians never totally absorbed Romanticism, their classical heritage and almost inborn sense of taste (and grace) being too tenacious (read here.)
Insane Western Romantic music (later Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Scriabin etc.), with a tendency towards excess.
Thus said, will our so-called philosophy be muddled? Will readers think MoR is crazy? I really got no idea, I really got no idea at all.
Note.We just gave above an example of digression + bizarre association. The concepts of writing and thinking were linked with music, two totally different planes of the human experience, although the connection appears evident to me.
“Why the heck are you worried about this roving of the mind? It’s just a blog, go ahead and be crazy.”
True, but the thing is I am a bit ambitious (only a bit, or I will fail). I am actually attempting a research. A research from a man-in-the-street-of-Rome point of view, though a research nonetheless. Thence this roving tendency could turn into a weakness (or into a strength?)
A Philosopher in Every Man
Magister used to say that every person is a natural-born philosopher, ie everyone, during the entire course of his/her life, keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts. This world vision or Weltanschaung (read here) enables us to com-prehend the surrounding world (from Latin comprehendere, cum + prehendere = put together, grasp, or insert into a grid).
Comprehension of the surrounding environment – it implies also better (inter)action within it, the two things going together.
Ok, if this is true of every man (that he is a natural born philosopher,) and, if I am a man, which I certainly am, I should somehow hope to be able to transmit my Roman feel in a sort of organized way. Is that true?
In principle yes, ALL though depending on the degree of discipline, education and availability of time I dispose of.
A Helping Hand
What’s the difference – one might ask – between a philosopher on one hand and a man of the street on the other hand? No difference, except the level of training, skill, specialization that may differ. The philosopher is a pro. Which doesn’t mean the non-pros must shut up. I will not 😉
We should all learn to think (and write) more effectively because it can greatly help us to make our days and guide us in the fundamental choices of our life. The more efficiently we think, the happier we live, classical measure being vital here though: should we think too much and act too little, we can get neurotic, wimpish (the list is long.)
This blog will try to give a helping hand to those who think self-improvement is important and possible.
Reason? Not All
Ideas are now taking shape a bit as regards my future method post. The next writing will though as promised be devoted to SEX, SEX, SEX NOTHING BUT SEX (though in the Roman way.)
In the meanwhile, some additional patience pls.
One can rule one’s chaotic mind with control, writing, striving for some order. But chaos is still there; non rational things, disorder etc. are still there. The guys at the Third Culture are doing some work on this, good idea to have a look at it.
What I do know is we can not live in disorder. We need force, organization, we need to discipline ourselves mostof the time.
Though not all the time.
We also need excess, spring breaks, fun, Carnivals, Saturnalia – a Roman festival (see picture below) where rules were broken: masters became for ex. slaves and slaves masters (see two posts of ours on Saturnalia: 1 & 2).
The Romans were big gurus in the art of living. They ruled the world with humour on their faces and tongue and not with mystical seriousness. While facing the most dreadful tragedies with utmost courage, they preferred comedies.
Reason and order are not all. They can lead to horrors if taken too seriously, a great lesson from the non ideological Romans, that some folks from colder climes do not seem to have quite understood. Taking things zu schwer can call disaster.
Let us then have fun then too! Carnivals are made for that! Look at Rio in Brasil, look at our Spanish cousins! – an economic success [2014 update: well, well, they, we, will rise up again: we are confident] although Madrid has movida every night.
God, how can I finish this never ending blabber?
Perhaps with Coelho‘s beautiful words, from his novel Zahir:
Let us have some respect
for our life on this planet …