Hui216 Italian Civilization Andrea Fedi



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5.3 Conclusions: time, history, life

  1. Inside the Greco-Roman civilization many believed that communities or social organizations are not different from any other biological organism that exists in nature: they are born, they develop and grow old, then decline and eventually die

  2. According to this view, which was very popular also during the Renaissance, there are cycles in history and politics as there are in nature

  3. It was only with the advent of Christianity and with the spread of biblical ideas which had been first developed inside Jewish culture, that our own image of time as an arrow, speeding constantly in one direction, became prevalent

5.3 The Christian timeline -- Simple progress vs. constant progress

  1. Christians represented the whole of history as a line that originates from the creation of the universe by God, advances towards the pivotal moment of the first coming of Jesus, and will one day reach the final point of arrival, with the second coming of Jesus and the so-called Judgment day, which represents the fullness of time, the time when all humanity is able to rejoin its creator

  2. And even though the Jewish/Christian linear image of time and history, quite different from the cyclical view of Greeks and Romans, already implied the idea of positive developments, it was mostly after the Enlightenment and the introduction of the cultural ideas of the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th-century, that the original Christian idea of time was associated to and almost replaced by the notions of constant, practically unavoidable progress and social evolution

5.3 The cyclical movement of time

  1. The concept of a cyclical evolution of time, and the idea that a community, small or large (a town or a state), is similar to a biological organism, going through various ages like all creatures in nature (youth, adulthood, old age), was indeed common among the Romans and the Greeks, as it was later on in Renaissance Florence (for ex., you find that idea in many passages written by Machiavelli), or Venice

  2. Obviously there are exceptions and apparent inconsistencies: even if you read Aristotle, you can find references both to a cyclical idea of time and to a linear representation of it

  3. The evidence that one finds in literary or historical texts, or in letters and personal journals, is often in the form of pessimistic comments interpreting dramatic historical or political events as symptoms of malaise, signs of the end that is presumed to be inevitable and imminent

5.3 Cyclical time in Machiavelli's politics

  1. Greek historian Polybius and, much later, Florentine historian/politician Machiavelli expressed this idea of the cyclical evolution of political institutions

  2. Machiavelli claimed that sooner or later every democracy is bound to degenerate (naturally, with the passing of time) into a period of anarchy, up to the point when the failing democracy is replaced by monarchy; in turn monarchy will degenerate into tyranny, tyranny may give birth to democracy, etc.

  3. Already some of the 15th century humanists, for example Leonardo Bruni, identified the decline of Roman civilization with the political crises of the first century BCE, which in their opinion derived from the gradual devaluation of the traditional Roman virtues

5.4 Historical novel Pompeii (2003), by Robert Harris -- First quote after the title page

  1. "American superiority in all matters of science, economics, industry, politics, business, medicine, engineering, social life, social justice, and of course, the military was total and indisputable. Even Europeans suffering the pangs of wounded chauvinism looked on with awe at the brilliant example the United States had set for the world as the third millennium began." (Tom Wolfe, Hooking up)

5.4 Historical novel Pompeii (2003), by Robert Harris -- Second quote after the title page

  1. "In the whole world, wherever the vault of heaven turns, there is no land so well adorned with all that wins Nature's crown as Italy, the ruler and second mother of the world, with her men and women, her generals and soldiers, her slaves, her pre-eminence in arts and crafts, her wealth of brilliant talents…" (Pliny, Natural history)

5.4 A map of Campania with the aqueduct known as Aqua Augusta (from Robert Harris, Pompeii)

5.4 The main characters in the novel

  1. Attilius: aquarius (fourth-generation aqueduct engineer), sent from Rome to replace Exomnius; a widower supporting his mother and sister

  2. Exomnius: engineer of the local aqueduct since the time before the earthquake, a Sicilian from Catania

  3. Ampliatus: freedman, crafty businessman, pater familias

  4. Corelia, his rebel daughter

  5. Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, his nephew

  6. Romans inside caves and underground, caught as they are about to become ghosts from the past

5.4 The plot and the organization of the events: The first day (Aug. 22, 79 CE)

  1. Looking for water, before dawn

  2. Fear and suspicion (directly related to the plot)

  3. Romans vs. locals: competence, work ethics and dedication to the service of the community vs. laziness, religion and superstition (related to the general theme of civilization)

  4. Style and punishment, our hero to the rescue

  5. The individual and society, public and private life, the bella figura (see the work of Gloria Nardini)

  6. Searching for greater meaning or immediate satisfaction (Epicureans vs. Stoics)

  7. "...he had been taught to lead his life according to the Stoic school: to waste of time on nonsense, to do one's job without whining, to be the same in all circumstances -- intense pain, bereavement, illness -- and to keep one’s lifestyle simple" (20)

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