Italy, On a more personal note, The Renaissance

Tombs of Giants

Florence, Italy. Western Civilization surely seems to be ’standing on the shoulders of giants’ as Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton both once put it describing their own sizeable debts to previous achievements in science. They’re of course themselves seen as giants, not for belonging to some class of ’perfect people’ which they were not, far from it. One severely hampered by ALS making him unable to speak without the aid of machines, the other partially blinded by superstition and the futile quest to forge base metals into gold. It’s for what they managed to overcome in spite of these ailments, of both body and mind, that ultimately made them great.

Western Civilization itself must also be judged by it’s own ability to overcome difficulties, in spite of what also might seem terrible about it. The alternative being the most common state of the last 250.000 or so years of our species existence, namely no civilization at all. There are no doubt prequels to this state of oblivion, like the totalitarian rule where fundamentalist ideology renders the ability to ’live and let live’ practically impossible. This finally leads a society to one of two possible outcomes, either it implodes from this deeply corrupting force to the intellect or it manages to try again, throwing nonsense out the door, forcing itself back into a more constructive balance with other cultures and ideas.

With all it’s inherent hypocrisy, pollution, crime and injustice, Western Civilization still appears to be based on certain guiding principles, significant in how they’ve all in some way allowed for a process of improving cultural exchange, sprung out of the many failures of those that went before. This is especially true of the lessons from the classical world. The increasing stability that slowly began lifting Europe out of the Dark Ages eventually brought about a tipping point. A moment of clarity that finally made the recovery of ancient knowledge possible. Thus, ideas from antiquity were reborn, after being perhaps slightly improved by Christian ethics, but more importantly no longer plagued by the many obstacles set up by religious dogmatism during previous millennia. A revival of free thought and science began, using mankind itself as measurement instead of some almighty celestial dictator of the mind. Out of the gloom came first the Renaissance, followed by the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and finally the development of liberal democracy and the modern Western World.

After this civilization has turned increasingly to post-modernism and self-doubt following what probably was the worst catastrophy since the Black Death – the World Wars of the 20th century – it might be more important than ever to keep the tradition of honoring past heroes of the human intellect. The West of course still celebrates the human spirit, our universal rights and great works of art, but it’s difficult not to notice how we’ve also turned our attention elsewhere. A culture seemingly more and more preoccupied with sports results, non-news, tv-series, and celebrities. This is a product of a cynical, ruthless form of commercialism. Advertising that doesn’t care if it gives us health problems with artificial diets and lack of exercise. People nowadays are still glued to their TV’s in a way that lets a few select corporations dictate much of what shapes our world views along with what products and culture to consume. At the same time the internet offers a new level of connectivity and some have long ago stopped watching the endless stream of programs like american idol or the latest sit coms. Many are probably now divided between chatting and connecting on the internet on the one hand, perhaps reading up on the occational favourite subject on wikipedia and posting a picture of our family on facebook or instagram, while on the other still watching the same lopsided tv-news and the latest predictably boring films from America. We should not forget that if we wanted to we could also use both our cultural institutions as well as the internet to hear Mozart’s Magic Flute or an audiobook of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick.

The media and the entertainment industry seems always ready to cater to the assumed need to numb our brains, rather than to lift our spirits. Much of the grey noise surrounding us seems to deliberately talk down to us, trying to find our lowest common denominator. This is of course beacause that’s how money is made. With a distortet view of ourselves by this constant supply of often useless information, advertising and gossip, we’re increasingly unaware of who we really are and where we actually came from. The current decline, practically across the board in academic fields is then less surprising. This in turn deepens unemployment figures, social turmoil, and a wave of xenophobia has began circulating again with new vigour in the West. Ideas previously thought to have been long since refuted by the lessons of history, adding further to the confusion.

Could voices from the past then still offer us a helping hand, guiding us in shaping the road ahead towards a more tolerant, enlightened, prosperous, healthy and revitalized global civilization? A civilization that at a few crucial points along the way was helped to advance it’s own range of possibilities and sense of freedom by the spirit of inquiry, fair competition, freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of enterprise. This libertarian pluralism and humanism at the core of Western Civilization must be protected, both against cultural relativism, political ideology and economic stagnation now threatening the very notion of a balanced mind aquiring such a thing as a classical education. We should celebrate our freedoms by excersising them better, using the examples set by the giants in our past. Otherwise it might all dissapear one day as has happened many times before.

Song: Hide Away by Hands Of Doom

 

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2014

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Italy, On a more personal note, The Roman Empire

Bound for Rome

Bound for Rome | Journey Thru History

Great news: I just learned today that I’ll receive a sought after scholarship from Gothenburg University, so unless the only fear of Chief Vitalstatistix comes true and the sky actually falls I’ll be spending 10 weeks in the spring of 2015 staying at the Swedish Institute in Rome!

From there I’ll travel around Italy, to places like Sicily and Pompeii, meeting people, learning new things, while obviously enjoying the vistas. And last but not least I’ll also get to indulge in some of that Italian cuisine, easily my favorite food in the world. I also wouldn’t mind to learn a bit more Italian. Right now I can just about order a meal and the right type of coffee. But it’s a start I guess.

Chances are I’ll probably have to learn some Latin and perhaps Greek as well as I’ll be preoccupied with the origins of Roman culture, tracing it back to it’s predecessors around Italy such as the Etruscans and the Greeks.

Being a fan of history, I must admit I’m usually more interested in the politics of maybe Alexander the Great or the First Emperor of China than current events. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, in fact rather the opposite. I try to remedy this though from time to time by reading the teletext (or Text-TV as us swedes call it). That way I quickly get up to speed on what’s happening around me without quite as much of the political jargon, overemphasis on endless sports results or boring celebrity culture that permeates our somewhat insecure postmodernist world.

It’s good to note however that the new Swedish government was recently forced to back down from a proposal to terminate funding for the very Institute where I’ll now be spending quite some time. All politics aside, It’s good to see that they’ve finally come to their senses and committed to supporting these important institutions which, in my opinion at least, are absolutely instrumental in providing key connections between Swedish academia and the outside world.

I guess the outcry in utter disbelief and disgust at this folly and obvious contempt for higher learning that spewed out from parts of the academic world probably also helped.

After having spent more than a month at a time in a few major cities around the world such as Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and Shanghai, I probably – now that I think of it – wouldn’t rather be in any other city next. It would thus appear that the Gods are treating me favorably at this moment, I shall try to make the most of it.

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France, On a more personal note, The Roman Empire

New arrivals

While having been quite busy lately editing films for my blog posts, I’m actually supposed to be doing something else. I’m currently researching an upcoming Thesis about the Roman presence in Gaul during the reign of Augustus.

It will (hopefully) be a cogent study how several Roman monuments in present day France proved significant in the process of Romanization. The Romans tended to eventually regard many things as their very own, such as the Mediterranean Sea which became Mare Nostrum, Our Sea. After successfully having subjugated all tribes in an area, the next step for the Romans was often trying to found permanent settlements for those having formerly served in the Roman military. It’s from these veteran colonies, or Colonia our modern word for colony is derived.

Then, to provide necessary stability in the newly conquered regions the Romans would provide it’s inhabitants with a variety of amenities such as permanent military presence with forts for protection, carefully planned towns with marketplaces, aqueducts for supplying fresh water for baths and agriculture – and last but not least – great monuments; to prove beyond any doubt who was in charge and that this was now Roman lands with approval from the very Gods.

Provincia NostraOur Province, was thus the name gradually chosen by the Romans for the area still known today as Provence in the South of France. It was the very first in a series of Roman provinces founded North of the Alps.

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(It’s nice to have an excuse to get some new books!)

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