Tag: Rome

The Romans wrote it down

Friday, 26 July, 2019

Why do we know as much as we do about the lives of ordinary Romans? Mary Beard offers an answer in SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. Snippet:

“The reasons why we can tell this story in such detail are very simple: the Romans themselves wrote a great deal about it, and a lot of what they wrote has survived. Modern historians often lament how little we can know about some aspects of the ancient world. ‘Just think of what we don’t know about the lives of the poor,’ they complain, ‘or of the perspectives of women.’ This is as anachronistic as it is deceptive. The writers of Roman literature were almost exclusively male; or, at least, very few works by women have come down to us (the autobiography of the emperor Nero’s mother, Agrippina, must count as one of the saddest losses of classical literature)… The complaints, however, miss a far more important point.

The single most extraordinary fact about the Roman world is that so much of what the Romans wrote has survived, over two millennia. We have their poetry, letters, essays, speeches and histories, to which I have already referred, but also novels, geographies, satires and reams and reams of technical writing on everything from water engineering to medicine and disease. The survival is largely due to the diligence of medieval monks who transcribed by hand, again and again, what they believed were the most important, or useful, works of classical literature, with a significant but often forgotten contribution from medieval Islamic scholars who translated into Arabic some of the philosophy and scientific material. And thanks to archaeologists who have excavated papyri from the sands and the rubbish dumps of Egypt, wooden writing tablets from Roman military bases in the north of England and eloquent tombstones from all over the empire, we have glimpses of the life and letters of some rather more ordinary inhabitants of the Roman world. We have notes sent home, shopping lists, account books and last messages inscribed on graves. Even if this is a small proportion of what once existed, we have access to more Roman literature — and more Roman writing in general — than any one person could now thoroughly master in the course of a lifetime.”

SPQR


Wilde Easter

Monday, 22 April, 2019

As Oscar Wilde lay dying in Paris in November 1900, the priest who received him into the Catholic Church was Father Cuthbert Dunne. When the Dublin cleric ended his days in Mount Argus Monastery, the young Brendan Behan was living nearby in Kildare Road. Like Wilde, he also became a professional wit and, referring to that last-minute conversion, Behan commended Wilde for shedding his sins as life ebbed away. He also reminded the world slyly that the two of them had enjoyed their bisexuality:

“Sweet is the way of the sinner
Sad, death without God’s praise
My life on you, Oscar boy,
Yourself had it both ways.”

Oscar Wilde’s Easter Day was published in 1894, six years before that famous deathbed conversion in Paris. It’s a bitter-sweet poem.

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)


Notre-Dame: La pietà en marbre de Nicolas Coustou

Tuesday, 16 April, 2019

One of Notre-Dame’s centrepieces is the marble pietà by Nicolas Coustou (1658 – 1733) on the cathedral’s high altar. Initial photographs following yesterday evening’s fire showed that the sculpture was mostly unharmed, but its condition has not been confirmed.

Descente de croix has been compared with the art of Michelangelo and the comparison is valid because in 1681 Coustou won the Colbert Prize (the Prix de Rome), which entitled him to four years of education at the French Academy at Rome. There, the 23-year-old was immediately influenced by the sculpture of Michelangelo and Algardi and he tried to combine the characteristics of each in his later work.

Situated at the far end of Notre-Dame’s nave, Coustou’s pietà was backed by three major and several minor stained-glass windows. It was something of a miracle that it was never overwhelmed by its magnificent surroundings and it will require a real miracle now to restore those settings to their former glory.

Notre-Dame


Paolo Di Paolo’s unseen images

Thursday, 11 April, 2019

Writing in the British Journal of Photography, Marigold Warner says: “Around 20 years ago, while rooting through her father’s cellar in search for a pair of skis, Silvia Di Paolo found a trunk containing 250,000 negatives, prints and slides. Aged 20 at the time, she had no idea that her father, Paolo Di Paolo, had been a photographer — let alone the top contributor to Il Mondo, one of Italy’s most popular current affairs magazines.”

The exhibition Di Paolo. Mondo Perduto will run at the MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome, from 17 April to 30 June. It is curated by Giovanna Calvenzi.

Paolo Di Paolo took some memorable photos of the stars of his day: Oriana Fallaci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Charlotte Rampling, Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, for example. This one of the actress Gina Lollogrigida and the artist Giorgio De Chirico is a classic.

Gina Lollogrigida Giorgio De Chirico


Roger Scruton on religion and culture

Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

“Culture, I suggest, has a religious root and a religious meaning. This does not mean you have to be religious in order to be cultivated. But it does mean that the point of being cultivated cannot, in the end, be explained without reference to the nature and value of religion.” — Roger Scruton

Saint Matthew was one of the twelve apostles and one of the four Evangelists. He was a tax collector by profession and when Jesus found him sitting with the other tax collectors he said, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed him. “The Calling of St Matthew” by Caravaggio depicts this moment. Painting from life, Caravaggio developed a technique called Tenebrism, which was marked by dramatic contrasts of light and shade. This led him to create art of great emotional intensity. “The Calling of St Matthew” was a sensation when it was first displayed in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome and it remains one of the most famous of Caravaggio’s works.

Caravaggio


Cecilia

Thursday, 22 November, 2018

One of the oldest musical institutions in the world is the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. It was founded at the command of Pope Sixtus V in 1585, who invoked two saints: Gregory the Great, after whom Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Her feast day is celebrated in the Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches on 22 November. The story goes that Cecelia was a noble lady of Rome, who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius and a Roman soldier named Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230 under the Emperor Severus Alexander. She was buried in the Catacomb of Callixtus, and her remains were later transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

This portrait of Saint Ceclia is by Il Lucchese, Antonio Franchi (1638–1709). After training in Lucca with Domenico Ferrucci, he moved to Florence to work under Medici patronage. He also published a text on the occupation of painting titled, La Teorica della Pittura.

Saint Cecelia


All our Saints’ Day

Thursday, 1 November, 2018

Initiated by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and the martyrs on 13 May 609 AD, All Saints’ Day may have been intended to co-opt the “Feast of Lemuria,” which the old Religio Romana used for placating the restless spirits of the dead. The Christian holy day was established on 1 November in the mid-eighth century by Pope Gregory III as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.

Our saints

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
— Saint Francis


Memoirs of Hadrian

Saturday, 8 September, 2018

“There are books which one should not attempt before having passed the age of forty.” So advises the Roman emperor Hadrian, one of the greatest rulers of the ancient world, in Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.

As it happened, Yourcenar was 48 when Memoirs of Hadrian was published in 1951. It was an immediate success proving, perhaps, that there are books one should not attempt to write until having passed the age of forty. Memoirs of Hadrian The novel is a recreation of the life and death of Hadrian in the form of a long letter to his adoptive son and successor, Marcus Aurelius. Having passed the age of forty, this blogger decided that the time had come to read Memoirs of Hadrian and it is superb, from start to finish. Given the current problems facing Pope Francis, this snippet from the final chapter, Patientia, gives cause for thought:

“If ever the barbarians gain possession of the world they will be forced to adopt some of our methods; they will end by resembling us. Chabrias fears that the pastophor of Mithra or the bishop of Christ may implant himself one day in Rome, replacing the high pontiff. If by ill faith that day should come, my successor officiating in the vatical fields along the Tiber will already have ceased to be merely the chief of a gang, or of a band of sectarians, and will have become in his turn one of the universal figures of authority. He will inherit our palaces and our archives, and will differ from rulers like us less than one might suppose. I accept with calm these vicissitudes of Rome eternal.”

Given what happened to ancient Rome, Hadrian’s “vatical” (resembling a prophecy) statement is delightful: “He will inherit our palaces and our archives, and will differ from rulers like us less than one might suppose.”

Language note: A “pastophor” was one of the bearers, who carried the image of a god in a shrine in processions.

History note: In September 476 AD, the last Roman emperor of the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by a Germanic prince named Odovacar. Dark Age Europe was born out of the violent destruction of the Roman Empire as barbarism replaced civilization. Hadrian was prophetic.


Chesterton on Rome and Brussels

Tuesday, 29 May, 2018

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” So said the English novelist and poet G.K. Chesterton, who was born on this day in 1874. It is hard, however, to imagine a Chesterton of our era saying, “Men did not love Brussels because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

In Rome, the feeling of love that was once directed towards Brussels, the seat of the European Union, has increasingly turned to hate. This is because the two Italian populist parties that won a majority of votes in the 4 March elections were prevented from forming a government by President Sergio Mattarella because they reportedly oppose the euro, and this heresy is regarded as the most grave of sins by the currency prelates in Frankfurt, Berlin and Brussels. As a result, Italy is about to become the battleground for two fierce tribes: The people who voted for populism and the elites who have prevented the elected populists from taking power. What happens in the coming days and weeks of their conflict will affect the future not just of Italy but of Europe.

 G.K. Chesterton


Syria and OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence)

Sunday, 15 April, 2018 0 Comments

Remarkable, indeed, is the wealth of information now at our fingertips. And it’s not just Wikipedia. There’s also the OECD Aid Database, Google Data Explorer and Enigma Public. When it comes to what’s happening on the darker side, Bellingcat uses open source data to investigate everything from Mexican drug lords to Russian gangsters, er, politicians.

Then, there’s The Aviationist run by David Cenciotti, a journalist based in Rome. Since its launch in 2006, it has become one of world’s most authoritative military aviation sites. His post yesterday, Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria, is based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) “since most of the aircraft involved in the raids could be tracked online via information in the public domain.” Snippet:

“Interestingly, at least two packages of 5 fighters (each supposed to include 4x F-16Cs from 31FW and 4x F-15Cs from 48FW loaded with air-to-air missiles — actually, the second one included only 3 Vipers instead of 4) supported by KC-135 tankers, provided DCA (Defensive Counter Air) cover to the bombers and to the warships launching TLAMs.”

Should this level of transparency worry us? After all, if David Cenciotti can access all this data easily, so can the Iranians. On the other hand, the abilities of people like David Cenciotti and Eliot Higgins to access and interpret Open Sources Intelligence means that the Iranians and their pals cannot get away with murder as easily as they once did. Their fingerprints are everywhere now, and they can be revealed in real time. Same goes for their lies. Take Russia’s claims that 71 out of 105 Cruise Missiles were shot down in the US-led strike. David Cenciotti casts a critical eye:

“If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.”

Question: What’s the toughest job in the world right now?
Answer: Sales rep for Russian air defense systems.


The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John

Friday, 30 March, 2018 0 Comments

This powerful image of by Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen was painted around 1624 for a Catholic “hidden church” in the city of Utrecht, where Catholicism was tolerated but not encouraged. The colour combinations and the light evoke Ter Brugghen’s experience of Caravaggio in Rome, but the angular figure of Christ and the reverential figures of Mary and John are very much his own. The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John expresses the devotional intensity that Good Friday has evoked down the centuries.

Good Friday