As for the human mind, we could use the metaphor of the museum, since it contains and manifests almost infinite traces of our past (past conceptions, language, behaviours) from Stone Age or earlier onwards.

Whatever world region we are from we should be concerned about probing such repository, sometimes referred to as our roots or cultural ID.

Language is an important portion of this ID. What a great digging tool for example etymology is, ie history of words, although lots of things are there that go way beyond words (see points I and IV below,) ie beyond logos, discourse.


A few examples, to better understand.

(Note. Italian-mind related – I’m Italian – I hope these examples can be of help to people with different minds altogether: the Lapps, the Celts, the Saxons, the Jews, the Hindu Indians, the Muslim Indians, the Cantonese Chinese, the Wenzhou Chinese etc. etc. – one could go on for days.)

I. The Greek fear in gods’ envy, yet present in South Italy and Greece:

“Not long ago my friend Mario took me for a drive on his stupendous vintage 1960 Lancia Flavia.

[Mario is a Roman from Naples founded by the Greeks in the 8th century BC]

On the way back to Rome I exclaimed merrily: ‘Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled as smoothly as olive oil, we didn’t have any problem!’

Mario snapped with a worried look: “Hush! hush! don’t you say that!” God I well knew what he meant:

“Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down? Do you want anything bad to happen to us?” as if the mere utterance of happiness would attract us ill luck or the envy from someone … Well, the envy from whom?

(read more).

Yes, from whom? The ancient classical Greeks (V cent. BC) believed that their gods, living an eternal blissful life, envied men too prosperous who dared to be happy like them, so they humbled and punished them. That too is important since excess was condemned by gods basically. Which brought people to be afraid of showing their happiness too much, or of being too arrogant also, like a sort of regulation valve a factor , without a doubt, of the   mostly (but not exclusively) upper-class marvellous ‘5th cent. BC’ Greek equilibrium.

Now, even 2400 years later (!) people in Southern Italy and in Greece are still afraid of expressing satisfaction when things are going WELL, lest ‘something’ (it’s blurred in their mind I believe) might spot them and whack them. Such a great item in their museum mind allow me to say!

(read more)

II. Ideas and phrases related to the Roman Goddess Fortuna: a. A personification of Goddess Fortuna (“they invoked their fortune”) seen as something capricious (“the tricks of fortune”) is deeply impressed in modern Western minds; b. The wheel of fortune used in many popular TV shows, since statues of goddess Fortuna represented her with a wheel etc. (read more)

III. Again about museum mind language items. When we say ‘deep in my heart’ or ‘she broke my heart’ we refer to a superseded scientific idea that the heart, and not the brain, is the seat of emotions. The Stoics saw in the heart the seat of the soul, Aristotle the seat of reason and emotion, the Roman physician Galen the seat of emotions etc. It is known anthropologists have observed tribes eating their enemies’ heart etc

IV. …Fulvia: You talked earlier of India, reincarnation: well, had your grandpa reincarnated in you, he must have been very unethical in his life despite his achievements .. 😉
You are certainly right, and believe me, you’re damn lucky I am not in the mood of telling what your next reincarnation will be!!

Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass, as it should be and as I hope it will ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.

That’s another great item, this laughter, of the modern Roman (not Greek) mind this time. Laughter, not necessarily this one, can often say more than dozens of boring books, scarce doubts about it.

(from the ‘very much to the point’ post How To Learn Greek and Latin (2). Some Inspiration From Penates etc)

Other materials from our writings

There’s like a huge and disorganized archive in our head so stuffed with things that just beg to come to light.

Let’s get it all out dear readers and make that inventory my good old Mentor used to tell us about when we were  young.

As for my own cultural ID, I am trying to probe it a bit with this blog.

The famous γνῶθι σεαυτόν aphorism we adapt to our museum mind concept

1. (…) The Mezzogiorno as a living museum

There are areas of the Italian South which are still developing and which contain more than elsewhere precious elements of our ancient culture. In short, they are like a living museum.

I would add that every man’s mind is like a museum, no matter where he comes from, since it contains almost infinite traces of past conceptions, from Stone Age onwards, though without an inventory. This Magister said many years ago. He said we should make such an inventory. To criticise our mind – he explained – is to make such an inventory. (…)

[ read more in Knowing Thyself ]

2. (…) Still pagan at heart?

Truth is, our mind is like a museum, which makes us seem cynical, indifferent. We [Italians] are inclined to live the joys of life, or sometimes to do bad deeds, without all those self-punishment mechanisms derived from breaking any fundamentalist moral code. Our flexibility (and confusion) springs also from ancient mores that contribute to make us the way we are. In some regions of our mind, it may be liked or disliked, we are still pagan at heart. (…)

[Alien attitudes and codes Italians possible have because they were highly civilized long before Christianity arrived, ie 9-10 centuries earlier – see also below. Which creates some differences vs many Northern Europeans who became civilised together with Christianity. This makes us a bit more pagan compared to them, whether we like it or not.]

[ read more in “Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial” ]

3. (…)

It seems clear to us that every study of present ways of thinking (European, Islamic, Sicilian, Neapolitan etc.) is not wholly understandable without looking at the endless past of the civilizations (…)

[ read more in Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1 ]

4. (…) Ideas and behaviours travel through time

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

(La Mediterranée, by Fernard Braudel, Flammarion 1985. Translation and square bracket text by MoR)

[ read more in Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2 ]

5. (…) The Italian Mafia in North America

Long centuries of oppression or absence of the state had favoured in Sicily a kind of anti-state or alternative organization. The American police officers and the ‘nordic’ Italian state found themselves unprepared …

Focusing on America, when meeting the ‘men of respect’ from Sicily the US found themselves facing unheard-of souls.


“It was a blend of morality and immorality which produced people able to commit the most ferocious crimes and, at the same time, to show respect for religion. People capable to plan a massacre while in everyday life they defended the good principles and healthy traditions.

An unheard-of humanity? Well, my readers know well what I think about it: we are dealing here in my opinion with alien moral codes stemming from pre-Christian, Greco-Roman antiquity, something more or less unknown to [Christian] northern Europe where the American culture mostly came from.

When in the American ports the Italian and the Irish organized crime faced each other [Olla], the latter didn’t have any chance, regardless of the many advantages the Irish had had – they had migrated earlier, they spoke the language, and some of them were perfectly integrated: Irish crime had to face a more ancient and mysterious culture.

(…) Surprise attacks, great speed and extreme determination in their raids – behind the big godfathers I remember Mario Puzo flashing the shadow of the Roman emperors [imperatores], with their ruthlessness and organization. It is exaggerated, but certainly the mafia the Americans had to fight had already in its genes some formidable military qualities, among the rest.

[read the entire post The Mafia and the Italian Mind]

6. (…) Italian so-to-say superstitions brought to the US

Maryann: “Merry Christmas dear Man of Roma! As I read your post, I was reminded of my grandmother who was from Apulia. She had a deep disregard for fortune tellers and wouldn’t even tolerate us visiting one for fun at the Italian festas. I wonder where this came from? I wonder if it was cultural or just something personal to her beliefs.”

MoR: “Merry Christmas to you too dear Maryann! I believe your grand-mother’s reaction was cultural, not personal. It probably reflected the Church’s reaction against possible survivals of paganism (the Roman religion) during Italian festas.

These so-called superstitions are widespread among Italians for the simple fact that Italians were highly civilized long before (9-10 centuries earlier) Christianity arrived. While many Northern Europeans were instead brought civilization together with Christianity (the Angles, the Saxons, the Irish, the Frisians, generally the unromanized Germans etc.). This makes us a bit more pagan, whether we like it or not.

The Catholic Church had to tolerate the remnants of the Roman religion (take the Saints, which Popes encouraged in order to facilitate the rural people into the new religion) while other times the Church of Rome fought against them. The idea of a Fortuna, of a power totally capricious that can be though probed through oracles, fortune tellers etc., was against the Catholic Church’s idea of a Divine Providence, of a God’s loving care for man. So Fortuna was not tolerated and all its related practices considered superstitious.

As far as I know, there is not a saint as a substitute for goddess Fortuna, while, for example (the list could be long), we instead have San Nicola at Bari (St. Nicholas) which scholars link to survivals of the Roman Neptune, the god of the seas … In many villages ….” (…)

[ read the entire conversation ]

7. (…) Heroes and the art of discussion. Looking into our mind

(from a conversation on heroes over at Andreas Kluth’s Hannibal blog)

MoR: “Very interesting topic and thread Andreas. One can wonder where this hero ideas come from.

A sort of hero worship – exceptional figures we admire, idolize etc. not far from legend, myth – is common to all cultures, with variations, plus cultures evolve in time.

It is often useful not to separate a conception from the history of conceptions, since our mind is like a museum bearing traces of past ideas, religions, philosophies, coexisting chaotically, and one should make an inventory, which I’m trying a bit in my blog, but, well, it’s way beyond my means.

Heroism is altruism, said Douglas – that, to me, is close to a Christian conception of heroism.

On the other hand, heroes such as Odysseus or Achilles, with traits surely attractive, present though elements undeniably amoral within the set of Christian values: guile, homosexual love, a sense of honour (alien but for lost villages in the Mediterranean where they prefer to kill their daughter rather than understand her, rather than face dishonour) etc: all this much more important to the ancient than helping the neighbour or pardon.

Aeneas, pious, self-effaced, is closer to us and was appreciated by the Christians. Although his obedience to Fate’s decrees in order to prepare Roman glory makes him even more alien in some way. The Romans were humane, but also such a disciplined, such a hardy folk – the Germans and the Britons not too far from them in this and other respects.

So simplifying we have the Christian hero and the Ancient hero, with some overlapping, and many other types of course.

Are we all caught in between a bit, one foot in the present and one in the past? At various degrees yes, and our ideas float a bit.

Which brings to definitions.

I agree discussion is enriching and concepts are better defined along the way. But isn’t this after all another of those traces – traditions – on our Western mind?

That dialogue is crucial, and that definitions come from it (and not viceversa, though the opposite is possible) is well ingrained in our minds and a gift given us by Socrates and Plato who possibly invented Western dialectics 2,400 years ago.”

[ read the entire Andreas Kluth’s post and discussion ]

6 thoughts on “The Human Mind is Like a Museum

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