by Ted Welch
Sun Mar 3rd, 2013 at 06:24:40 PM EST
History repeats itself as farce ?
As I left Rome after a recent trip the Italians voted. The winner was widely thought to be the comedian become political agitator, Bepe Grillo, whose party became a powerful new force. Grillo had been backed by Dario Fo, a popular political playwright:
"Grillo is like a character in one of my plays," says Dario Fo, whose satires on medieval and modern life have seen him handed a Nobel prize and hounded off Italian stages in a career that has covered 50 years. "He is from that school of medieval minstrels who played with paradox and the absurd," adds Fo.
Fo, 86, is best known for his play Accidental Death of an Anarchist, inspired by the death of a man in police custody in 1969, and has long been a leftwing hero in Italy. He publicly backed Grillo this year, co-writing a book on the comedian's fledgling political movement and giving him a ringing endorsement at a packed rally in Milan's Piazza Duomo days before the election.
The real trap for Grillo, warns Fo, is being beguiled by flattery. Turning again to history, he cites Cola Di Rienzo, the charismatic son of a tavern owner in the 14th century who wooed Romans with his oratory and became the city's leader, setting his sights high and ousting corrupt noble families, only to see his support slip away before he was murdered by a mob as he sought to flee in disguise.
But in Rome one is taken back long before the time of the Rienzo. A chance link, a quotation under a bust in the National Museum, took me to Appian, one of the lesser-known ancient historians. He had a remarkably Marxist approach, emphasising class-struggle and showing how little things have changed. Then as now a wealthy elite manipulated the already sophisticated political system, and resorted to violence when the opposition became too threatening to their interests:
To show how these things came about I have written and compiled this narrative, which is well worth the study of those who wish to know the measureless ambition of men, their dreadful lust of power, their unwearying perseverance, and the countless forms of evil.
Appian, Civil Wars p.14
At length Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, an illustrious man, eager for glory, a most powerful speaker, and for these reasons well known to all, delivered an eloquent discourse, while serving as tribune, concerning the Italian race, lamenting that a people so valiant in war, and blood relations to the Romans, were declining little by little in pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy.
... After speaking thus he again brought forward the law, providing that nobody should hold more than 500 jugera of the public domain. But he added a provision to the former law, that the sons of the present occupiers might each hold one-half of that amount, and that the remainder should be divided among the poor by triumvirs, who should be changed annually.
This was extremely disturbing to the rich because, on account of the triumvirs, they could no longer disregard the law as they had done before; nor could they buy the allotments of others, because Gracchus had provided against this by forbidding sales. They collected together in groups, and made lamentation, and accused the poor of appropriating the results of their tillage, their vineyards, and their dwellings.
(Led by Nasica) the Senate ... wrested clubs out of the hands of the Gracchans themselves, or with fragments of broken benches or other apparatus that had been brought for the use of the assembly, began beating them, and pursued them, and drove them over the precipice. In the tumult many of the Gracchans perished, and Gracchus himself was caught near the temple, and was slain at the door close by the statues of the kings. All the bodies were thrown by night into the Tiber.
So perished on the Capitol, and while still tribune, Gracchus, the son of the Gracchus who was twice consul, and of Cornelia, daughter of that Scipio who subjugated Carthage ... This shocking affair, the first that was perpetrated in the public assembly, was seldom without parallels thereafter from time to time. On the subject of the murder of Gracchus the city was divided between sorrow and joy. Some mourned for themselves and for him, and deplored the present condition of things, believing that the commonwealth no longer existed, but had been supplanted by force and violence. Others considered that everything had turned out for them exactly as they wished.
"I am pessimistic. Nothing will change," said Luciana Li Mandri, 37, as she cast a ballot in the Sicilian capital Palermo on the first of two days of voting that continues on Monday.
"The usual thieves will be in government."
Meanwhile - in Rome, "the eternal city" - the photos:
View from the hotel terrace near Piazza Navona looking towards St. Peter's:
In the Vatican:
"This will make a great barbecue":
On the bridge by Castel Sant'Angelo:
The Stadium of Domitian, now under Piazza Navona:
The Stadium was used almost entirely for athletic contests. For "a few years", following fire-damage to the Colosseum in 217 AD, it was used for gladiator shows. According to the Historia Augusta's garish account of the Emperor Elagabalus, the arcades were used as brothels and the emperor Severus Alexander funded his restoration of the Stadium partly with tax-revenue from the latter ...
With the economic and political crises of the later Imperial and post-Imperial eras the Stadium seems to have fallen out of its former use; the arcades provided living quarters for the poor and the arena a meeting place.
... Substantial portions of the structure survived into the Renaissance era, when they were mined and robbed for building materials.
The Piazza Navona sits over the interior arena of the Stadium. The sweep of buildings that embrace the Piazza incorporate the Stadium's original lower arcades.
Looking out to Piazza Navona:
Later I stayed in an apartment in San Lorenzo, the Aurelian Wall was at the end of my street, Via de Sabelli:
Aurelian ... was Roman Emperor from 270 to 275. During his reign, he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war. He also defeated the Goths, Vandals,Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi. Aurelian restored the Empire's eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire in 273. The following year he conquered the Gallic Empire in the west, reuniting the Empire in its entirety. He was also responsible for the construction of the Aurelian Walls in Rome ...
It was a working class area but is becoming trendier and in my street there were two very nice bars: the Odd Room, and Rive Gauche - the names say it all.
The Odd Room:
The National museum, with beautifully lit sculpture:
The one thing I really wanted to see in the National Museum was the famous bronze sculpture of a boxer, unfortunately it seemed to be the one thing missing, but there was at least a very good video showing it from various angles and in close-up:
The bronze Boxer of Quirinal, also known as the Terme Boxer, is a Hellenistic Greek sculpture dated around 330 B.C. of a sitting boxer with Caestus, a type of leather hand-wrap, in the collection of the National Museum of Rome.
The statue is a masterpiece of Hellenistic athletic professionalism, with a top-heavy over-muscled torso and scarred face, cauliflower ears, broken nose, and a mouth suggesting broken teeth...
The sculpture is soldered together from eight separately cast segments. The lips and wounds and scars about the face were originally inlaid with copper, and further copper inlays on the right shoulder, forearm, oxeis himantes and thigh represented drops of blood.
A ghostly reflection of a statue of Augustus, with a modern propaganda tool in the background:
Early porn - very hard - but it's OK, she's a daughter of goddess Niobe, trying to pull an arrow out of her back:
Then there's decadence from Asia Minor:
"I seem to have a red cast in the photo and lots of phallic symbols."
When in Rome:
Trastevere - too full of young American tourists; I preferred San Lorenzo:
Wine bar, Trastevere - togetherness:
Trastevere, fountain and Apollo montage:
Arch of Constantine with Colosseum in the background:
This is no triumph to be celebrated by any rational person, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire giving it enormous power which it used to stifle science and anyone who raised questions the Church thought dangerous, even killing Bruno, one of their own, but one who dared to think outside Church dogma.
Giordano Bruno, Campo Fiori:
After the Roman Inquisition found him guilty of heresy, he was burned at the stake. After his death he gained considerable fame, particularly among 19th- and early 20th-century commentators who, focusing on his astronomical beliefs, regarded him as a martyr for free thought and modern scientific ideas.
The Pantheon - a lovely quiet evening in the piazza, unlike Cour Saleya in Nice, not a single motorbike disturbed the peace. With very few customers, the Rumanian waitress, who spoke very good English as well as Italian, told me her opinion of the various nationalities she dealt with. The French were difficult, the Spanish rude, Americans were happy, the Brits OK, and the Italians enjoyed life, while the Rumanians remained rather depressed. But she was doing well enough to being going on holiday in Mexico in a week's time to get warm:
The Colosseum - on a cold, moonlit night, with almost nobody else around - an atmosphere to reflect in peace on the violent events these walls had seen:
Violent death was not confined to the Colosseum, as the story of Gracchus reminds us. But at least, Nasica, the leader of the massacre of Gracchus and followers, paid dearly for it:
When threatened with impeachment, Nasica was reassigned to Asia to remove him from the city. The People made no attempt to conceal their hatred of him, accosting him publicly, cursing him and calling him a tyrant. Nasica wandered, despised and outcast, until he died shortly later near Pergamum.
If only such a fate had come to Berlusconi years ago - instead he's back after offering bribes to the electorate - tragedy is replaced by farce.
"Bloody imperialists - I'm going Left!"
So I'll end - in the spirit of the absurd - with an excellent clown in Piazza Navona:
"Go Left young man"
To the next diary: