Politeismo dell’antica Roma e venerazione dei santi (2)

Santi patroni e aree di patronato

Come già scritto nella prima parte il politeismo romano fondato su un’ “idea compartimentale della divinità” (cioè su divinità che aiutano l’uomo in specifici aspetti della vita umana) sembra sopravvivere oggi nel culto dei Santi.

Come osserva Gordon J. Laing, niente ci dà un’idea più vivida della sopravvivenza del politeismo quanto le liste dei Santi patroni e dei loro rispettivi ambiti di intervento.

I Santi patroni sono santi speciali che intercedono per noi presso Dio in certe situazioni della vita. Essi acquisiscono tale potere per volontà del Pontefice oppure per tradizione.

[Notate qui la festa del patrono di Venafro-Isernia, S. Nicandro, festa molto sentita dalla popolazione non solo locale. Interessante come il crocefisso sia quasi in secondo piano rispetto alla statua del Santo]

Un paio di queste liste (di quasi un secolo fa e relative al mondo rurale spagnolo e italiano) sono trascritte da G. J. Laing nel pregevole libro Survivals of Roman Religion (1931), che ci sta un po’ guidando in questo viaggio.

Le liste mi sono sembrate così eloquenti che ho rovistato il web per vedere se ne trovavo di più aggiornate.

Sono rimasto letteralmente sbalordito.

Le liste dei Santi, oggi, sono incredibilmente più ricche e dettagliate di quelle del passato! Chissà poi perché.

 

Santi che proteggono dai serpenti,
dall’AIDS e dalle sbornie

Molto esauriente il sito web Saints.SQPN.com, con 7.140 Santi e 3.346 aree di intervento (nel 2012). Vale la pena di dare un’occhiata anche all’AmericanCatholic.org e al Catholic Online. In italiano molto ricco è il sito Santi e beati.it. Alcune liste le trovate anche nella Wikipedia italiana (1, 2, 3).

Ecco una piccolissima parte di ciò che si può trovare nel sito SQPN, cioè alcune aree di intervento e i Santi relativi.

Animali. Oltre ai Santi protettori o patroni di città e paesi [per es. Agata, patrona di Catania, Nicandro patrono di Venafro, Gennaro di Napoli, Santa Rosa di Viterbo ecc.] vi sono Santi che proteggono contro i morsi dei cani (Valburga, Uberto di Liegi), i morsi dei serpenti (Paolo Apostolo), le punture delle api (Ambrogio di Milano, Bernardo di Chiaravalle), oppure che proteggono: il bestiame (Brigida d’Irlanda, Nicostrato); i cani (Rocco, Vito); gli allevatori di pollame (Brigida d’Irlanda); i salmoni (Mungo di Glasgow o Kentigern); anche i cigni e le balene (Ugo di Lincoln e Brendano di Clonfert rispettivamente).

Istruzione. Vi sono Santi per gli insegnanti (Cassiano di Imola, Caterina d’Alessandria, Francesco di Sales, Ursula, Gregorio Magno) e Santi per gli studenti (Alberto Magno, Isidoro di Siviglia, Girolamo, Ursula, Tommaso d’Aquino).

C’è persino un santo per chi fa i test d’esame (!) : San Giuseppe da Copertino.

Salute. Qualsiasi problema di salute ha i suoi patroni specifici: angina pectoris (Suitbert, apostolo dei Frisoni), artrite (Alfonso Maria de Liguori, Colman, Giacomo il Maggiore, Killian o Chiliano vescovo, Totnan), autismo (Ubaldo Baldassini da Gubbio), postumi di una sbornia (Bibiana), cefalea (Acacio, Anastasio il persiano, Aurelio di Riditio, Bibiana, Ugo di Grenoble, Teresa d’Avila), cancro al seno (Agata di Catania, Aldegonda di Maubeuge, Egidio), diabete (Paolina del Cuore Agonizzante di Gesù), depressione (Amabile, Berta di Avenay, Bibiana, Dinfna, Moluag, che evangelizzò i Pitti nel 6°sec d.C.), epilessia (Albano da Magonza, Baldassarre, Giovanni Crisostomo, Valentino di Roma), pazzia (Albano da Magonza, Baldassarre, Giovanni Crisostomo, Vito, Villibrordo vescovo) e così di seguito.

Ci sono Santi per chi cura l’AIDS (Luigi Gonzaga) e Santi per chi è colpito dall’AIDS (Luigi Gonzaga, Pellegrino Laziosi, Teresa di Lisieux).

Famiglia. Numerosi i patroni dei matrimoni difficili (citiamo solo Caterina da Genova, Dorotea di Montau, Edoardo il Confessore, Philip Howard, Tommaso Moro, Radegonda) così come i Santi patroni dei divorziati (Fabiola, Gontrano, Elena, madre di Costantino). Ci sono Santi per le coppie senza figli (Anne Line, Caterina da Genova, Enrico II del sacro Romano Impero, Giuliano l’Ospitaliere, patrono di Macerata), per i celibi e le nubili, oltre a quelli che proteggono contro la morte dei bambini, la morte dei padri, delle madri, di entrambi i genitori; Santi contro gli abusi coniugali, contro l’incesto, l’aborto e così via.

Se di politeismo si tratta,
perché fu tollerato?

Come ha osservato Ernest Renan (1823 – 1892), scrittore e filosofo francese:

Chiunque “preghi un santo particolare invocando una cura per il cavallo o il bue o mette una moneta nella cassetta di una cappella miracolosa è in quell’atto pagano. Egli agisce obbedendo a un sentimento religioso che è più antico del Cristianesimo …”.

Se questo è anche parzialmente vero, perché i fondatori del cristianesimo, che certo non erano politeisti, tollerarono tali sopravvivenze delle religioni antiche?

Il politeismo (di qualsiasi tipo, anche non romano) era forse troppo radicato perché il Cristianesimo fosse in grado di sradicarlo. Pertanto alcune dosi di sincretismo o compromesso furono il prezzo che i fondatori del cristianesimo dovettero verosimilmente pagare per cristianizzare i ‘pagi’ – cioè i distretti rurali dell’ex impero, da cui il termine ‘paganus’ – e le popolazioni degli avamposti più remoti del mondo romano o al di fuori di esso.

“Può darsi che i padri del Cristianesimo – afferma Gordon J. Laing – trovassero che la credenza del popolo illetterato in questi spiriti specializzati di grado minore fosse un grande problema che si trovavano a dover risolvere. Essi si resero conto che il popolo prediligeva gli spiriti che soccorrevano in situazioni specifiche, e compresero che le masse si sentivano più a loro agio con esseri che, sia pur di natura divina, non erano troppo distanti dalla sfera umana.
Erano vivamente interessati a convertire i pagani alla fede cristiana e ci riuscirono. Ma senza dubbio un fattore del loro successo fu l’inserimento, nel loro sistema, della dottrina della venerazione dei Santi”.

Adorazione e venerazione

Va notato che adorazione (latria) e venerazione (dulia) sono due cose diverse sia per la Chiesa Cattolica che per quella Ortodossa. Mentre l’adorazione è dovuta solo a Dio, la venerazione, corrispondente a un livello minore di devozione, è dovuta ai Santi.

[Per la precisione la venerazione dei Santi è accettata oggi non solo dalle chiese cattolica e ortodossa ma anche parzialmente dalla Chiesa Anglicana e dai Luterani, non però dagli altri protestanti, ndr]

Gordon J. Laing osserva a tale proposito:

“La Chiesa non ha mai insegnato l’adorazione dei Santi […] Se poi i contadini del sud d’Italia e di altre parti d’Europa distinguano con una certa precisione tra venerazione e adorazione, si tratta di un’altra questione. Non è probabile che lo facciano, e per coloro che sono alla ricerca di prove della continuazione del potere creativo della religione romana, le credenze degli illetterati sono altrettanto importanti quanto le dottrine formulate dalla Chiesa. Il nostro tema non è la sopravvivenza del paganesimo nella Chiesa moderna, bensì la sua sopravvivenza nei tempi moderni”.

Finiamo l’articolo con un brano affascinante sempre tratto da Survivals of Roman religion.

 

Pompa romana
e processione di S. Gennaro

“La somiglianza dell’atteggiamento mentale tra devoti pagani e cristiani e la sopravvivenza dell’idea politeista nel mondo attuale possono essere osservate confrontando il comportamento delle persone che assistevano alla processione che precedeva i giochi del Circo Massimo nell’antica Roma con quello della folla che riempie oggi le strade di Napoli in occasione della festa che si tiene a maggio in onore di San Gennaro [Januarius], il santo patrono della città”.

[La pompa circensis era la grande processione che si teneva prima dei giochi di un circo: leggere una descrizione in inglese nell’ottimo sito LacusCurtius; delle altre pompae o processioni ricordiamo la pompa triumphalis e quella funebris; ndr]

“Nella processione dell’antica Roma [prima dei ludi circenses, ndr] grande spazio era dato alle immagini degli dei che erano sospinte su carri; e, man mano che sfilavano, i devoti romani gridavano i nomi delle divinità da loro considerate come protettrici speciali.

La stessa cosa ha luogo durante la festa napoletana. Nella processione di S. Gennaro le figure di molti Santi, ognuno dei quali ha un posto speciale nel cuore del proletariato napoletano, vengono trasportate dalla Cattedrale alla Chiesa di Santa Chiara. Vi sono santi di tutti i secoli passati, alcuni dei quali hanno raggiunto la dignità di santo centinaia di anni prima, mentre altri sono creazioni più recenti. Mentre il corteo avanza varie persone tra la folla gridano il nome del loro particolare santo protettore, e quando passa l’immagine di San Biagio, una sorta di Esculapio cristiano con poteri speciali per le malattie della gola, le mamme napoletane sollevano i bambini malati invocando una cura”.

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

[see The Roman Jews (1)]

A millenary presence

There’s evidence of the millenary presence of the Jews in the city. Of the over 40 imperial Rome catacombs unveiled 6 are Jewish. At the end of the catacomb period a Jewish cemetery rose around Porta Portese. We also know of at least one synagogue in Ostia antica and of several in Trastevere.

The arch of Titus is also an indirect sign of presence. The Roman generals in triumph were usually followed by the captives in fetters, although on one arch panel we see only the head of the procession – but someone says it shows also prisoners – with the riches looted in Jerusalem, among which the seven-branched menorah.

The Menorah carved on the Arch of Titus. Detail from a copy of the original arch panel. Click for larger picture and credits

By the way, where is the splendid gold menorah gone? Oh so many speculations and legends flourished! [see Lanciani at the foot of the page]

From both Josephus and the panel we guess it was brought to Rome, then possibly kept in the Temple of Peace until the Vandals stole it in 455 AD.

One legend is told by Giggi Zanazzo (1860 -1911), our source on Roman culture written in the Roman dialect (full text):

“The candelabrum we see carved under the arch of Titus was all in gold and was brought by the ancient Romans to Rome from Jerusalem, when this city was sacked and burned by them. It is said some turmoil occurred and they came to blows when someone tried to steal it. Since they happened to pass over the Quattro Capi bridge [pons Fabricius – see below – the most ancient bridge surviving, built in 62 BC] it was thrown into the river so nobody had it and the water now is enjoying it.”

Pons Fabricius, also called Quattro Capi, is the most ancient bridge in Rome (62 BC.) It connects the Tiber Island with the Jewish ghetto. Click for credits

It was said that under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, but the Pope refused fearing that stirring up the mud would generate the plague [Lanciani.]

Did the Jews live so long with the Romans that some paganism brushed on them? Zanazzo writes that the Holy Mary was evoked in ways that remind me of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth:

“When the Jewish women are about to give birth, during the hardest labour pains, in order for their childbirth to be successful, they ask our Madonna for help. When all is finished quickly and well they get a broom and sweep the floor saying: “Fora, Maria de li Cristiani (out, Mary of the Christians).”

4th century AD. The Tiber Island with pons Fabricius leading to the left bank and the D-shaped theatre of Marcellus. Behind, Porticus Octaviae big rectangle

From the right to the left bank

Since they had arrived to Rome the Jews had mainly lived on the right bank of the Tiber, in the Transtiberine district, where the harbour was.

After Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics (from the 16th century on) and an epoch of religious fanaticism began, the Jews were forced to settle down on the left river side, in a district called rione S. Angelo [see above the area at the times of emperor Constantine; see below as it is today.]

On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a Bull that cancelled all the rights of the Jews and segregated them in a walled area, il Serraglio delli Hebrei, as it was called (i.e. the ghetto,) an unhealthy place subject to floods and too small for its inhabitants.

The Fabricius bridge leading from the Tiber island to left bank and the ghetto (rione S. Angelo) with its synagogue. Click for credits and larger pict

The ghetto: ‘Condemned for their fault’

Heavy gates were kept open only from sunrise till sunset.

The Bull Cum nimis absurdum took its name from its first words. It decreed that the Jews had to be separated from the rest ‘through their own fault’ [Latin, propria culpa]:

“Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault [e.g. having caused the death of Christ] were condemned by God to eternal slavery, have access to our society and even may live among us […] we ordain that for the rest of time […] all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”

The Bull encouraged the creation of walled ghettos in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

More than 3 centuries later part of the Roman ghetto was demolished after Italy’s unity in 1870. Among the disappeared places was via Rua, where the most prominent Jewish families lived.

Well, if this was a sort of main street, one has an idea of the poverty of the entire place! Look at this watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (ca 1880 .)

Tormented cohabitation

The Jewish obstinacy in keeping their own traditions increased the mistrust of the Christians. Constrained since centuries to be second rate traders, they were additionally impoverished by segregation, which added to the idea that God had punished them. All this favoured humiliation and violence.

“The men had to wear a yellow cloth (the “sciamanno”)- we read in the Wiki – and the women a yellow veil (the same colour worn by prostitutes). During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. […] Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons in front of the small church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, just outside the wall.”

We have to say that strictness in Rome was always tempered by the laxity and good-nature of its inhabitants. The yellow colour often became indistinguishable, some covert movements were possible, hate or mistrust were not seldom replaced by warm solidarity. Moreover the Roman people, popes included, needed the arts of the Jews – the astrology & medicine they had learned from the Arabs, and their trade skills.

There were never pogroms in the city, like elsewhere in Europe. And never the Jews from here were tempted by another diaspora.

In short, they were tolerated. So they remained in Rome.

The Roman Jewish ghetto in October 2004. Click to enlarge and for credits

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Note. For an in-depth analysis of the Jews’ presence in ancient Rome see the 6th chapter from the splendid Rodolfo Lanciani’s New Tales Of Old Rome (1901) [full text].

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See the previous installment:

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

See also:

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

Themes from Man of Roma

The Roman Forum. Click for credits and larger image

I’d love to know
How things got to be
How they are.

[Marilyn Monroe]

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Here is a first selection of themes from Man of Roma. Each link leads to pages with excerpts from our posts that illustrate the chosen themes. I couldn’t get much into the conversations kicked off by the posts for lack of time. You can have a look yourself since lots of additional materials are in the comments area of the linked posts.

This page is meant for those interested in finding their bearings in the ideas of this blog. You will notice leitmotivs that circulate and I have also chosen themes related to one another.

Another theme selection – to be published not immediately, I don’t want to lose all my readers – will regard the relationships between South and North Europe, Europe and North America, East and West, Great Britain and the Continent and much more.

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The Human Mind is Like a Museum
The human mind is like a museum since it contains almost infinite traces of past conceptions, from Stone Age onwards. Words, language are an important portion of this museum, but lots of things are there that go way beyond words. In short, a huge disorganized archive we have in our heads and that we should inventory. It’s the activity of this blog, a little bit.

The Legacy of Rome
Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here, and Rome’s legacy is greater than we think.

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea
The Italian and Roman soul is intimately tied to the folks of the Mediterranean. We are all related. Food, plants and plenty of traditions are similar. On a long-period perspective we belong to the same historical stream, to the same area from which some of the great civilizations have germinated on this side of the planet. Of course there are differences among us, but we are not so dissimilar as someone might (or likes to) think. Many behaviours, defined for example as Islamic, actually belong to the ancient past of Mare Nostrum, the context and stage of all that made us the way we are.

Influences of the Classical World
The Greco-Roman classical civilization has moulded the world we live in today. Influences and survivals can be seen in behaviours, arts etc.

Sex and the City (of Rome)
An exploration of Greco-Roman sexuality and of what is left today of such different mores. I have dedicated a series of 5 posts (out of 105) to this theme but the series is always in the ‘top posts’ list on the right column. I wonder why.
I have tried to understand how alien Greco-Roman sex can be vis-à-vi contemporary sexuality, and why things have changed so much since then.

Dialogue Among Civilisations
Some communication has occurred with non Western people, very enriching though not always easy. Great civilizations tend to close-up a bit – noble gases, Ashish, one witty commenter of this blog, called them –  they being like complete in themselves. We had good connection with the Indians. Their good English has helped. Rediscovering one’s heritage doesn’t exclude others, quite the contrary. It means having something peculiar to transmit, in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.

“The deeper one goes into one’s own experience – argued Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – […] the more does one’s experience have in common with the experiences of others […]. The most unique is the most universal. The dialogues of Buddha or of Plato, the dramas of Sophocles, the plays of Shakespeare are both national and universal. The more profoundly they are rooted in historical traditions, the more uniquely do they know themselves and elicit powerful responses from others.”

Survivals of Roman Religion
When talking about religion it is important to understand that history and faith, science and theology fly on different planes and shouldn’t be confused. By Roman religion we mean any cult that was followed in ancient Rome, also foreign ones. As an example, the cult of the Anatolian Kybele, the great mother-goddess, was established on the Palatine Hill in 210 BC, according to Livy. To the historian, anthropologist etc. the number of Roman religion survivals is impressive.

Crisis of Values in Affluent Countries
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new different attitude which can enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes ahead which might cause our swift decline. In Europe especially religion is waning and people sometimes embrace weird beliefs (see below Neo-pagan underground temples in Northern Italy.) Rich countries should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. Nonetheless one has the impression that often void rules and that people don’t know any more which are the right choices in everyday life.

Neo-pagan stunning temples secretly carved out below ground in Northern Italy. Click for source file (Daily Mail)

The Greco-Roman Roots of the West
Similar to the ‘Influences of the Classical World’ but seen from a different viewpoint.

Traces of Paganism in Italians
Sometimes Italians, especially from the South, are considered superstitious. Whatever we mean by this word, these superstitions seem often remnants of the Greco-Roman past. Italians were highly civilized long before Christianity arrived (9-10 centuries earlier,) while many Northern Europeans became civilised together with, and thanks to, Christianity. This couldn’t be without consequences.

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

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

Pre-Christian Rome lives


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

In I segreti di Roma, as we said, Corrado Augias notes that “Rome among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village…”.

This ancientness of Rome is revealed by many aspects that go back to pre-Christian (or so-called Pagan) times, in spite of the fact that the city is the centre of Catholicism.

What can happen here is that the columns of a Christian church come from a temple of Venus, or that the porch of a palace built in 1909 is sustained by a buttress from Nero’s circus (Augias).

The character of the true Romans (romani di 7 generazioni, namely seven-gererations Romans, as we say) is often crass, easy-going, cynic, wise & witty: all at the same time. Great Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi (see picture below) was a pretty good specimen. This mixture smells of centuries and of moral values going well beyond the civilization of Christ.

Aldo Fabrizi. Fair use
Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi, an icon character of the eternal city

This Christian/pre-Christian mix is palpable. Federico Fellini’s films depict it in ways grotesque though eloquent (Roma, above all, but not only).

Following is Roma’s poster and the famous Catholic Church Fashion Show movie sequence from that same movie. It may appear an excessively wild scene, but it is hard to deny how it is also much revealing.

Fellini’s Roma poster. Fair use

In his novel Rome (Augias p. 11) the French writer Emile Zola wondered if Raffaello’s ideal figures didn’t after all flash the divine and desirable flesh of Venus under the chaste veil of the Virgin; or those mighty Michelangelo’s frescos didn’t after all refer to the nature of the Olympian Gods rather than that of the Hebrews’ God.

“Was indeed Rome ever Christian – Zola asks – after the primitive age of the catacombs?”.

Also the pre-Christian role of government of peoples still survives. Imperial Rome is resurrected into Catholic Rome, governess not of the nations any more but of the minds and spirits of men.

Madonna and child by Raphael, Italian High renaissance. Public domain
Madonna and child by Raphael, Italian High renaissance
Italian version