Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Modern Neanderthals in Rome

Neanderthals had been wandering around Europe and Italy more than 20,000 - 40,000 years ago, but by the start of the Bronze Age around 2000 BCE, there are archaeologic records of several Italic tribes spread throughout Italy.
Neanderthal Child
Image by Google
Last November this modern day Neanderthal spent her 60th birthday in Rome (yes, I have the large brow and claim that lineage.)  Looking through all the photos, I see again what I saw then, and what drew our ancient ancestors to this fantastically bella citta on the banks of the Tevere River (Tiber).  While pondering the layers of "civilization" heaped upon Rome, I wondered if we have come very far from the peak of the Roman Empire.  So sit back and take an armchair scroll through my reckoning of some of our ancestors who journeyed on the Apennine Peninsula - from a feminine perspective.

Around 900 BCE (BCE= before common era, latest terminology) the Etruscans settled and controlled the area between the Arno River in Tuscany and the Tevere River in Rome. The Etruscans continued to develop alongside the founding of Rome only to be eventually overwhelmed by the Roman Republic. 

Apennine Peninsula

The last Etruscan City fell to Rome around 300 BCE.  Etruscan women have had sordid stories written about them and their behaviors, which today are disputed for their slanted point of view, all written by men - and so I count this time as a starting point when misogyny was found to exist.
Estruscan Woman

Romulus and Remus suckled by a she-wolf
Legend has it that Rome was founded on seven hills and the twins Romulus and Remus, born into a disputed patriarchal lineage, were sentenced to be murdered.  So off they were sent in a basket downstream, only to be found and suckled by a she-wolf.  Romulus killed Remus and became the first of kings in the kingdoms of rulers, succeeded by a republic governed by  republican consuls and finally an empire of emperors. 
Somehow this story is awfully similar to baby Moses in the basket down the Nile, Cain and Abel and Mogli.  Our myths do repeat themselves! 
Greek colonies were scattered throughout the southwest coast of Italy and became known as Magna Graecia.

There is such a long history of settlement in the area we now call Rome, that it boggles the mind.  So I am cherry-picking tidbits that may not be so well known to everyone - "Deborah's Pics."

Great spectacles were held for hundreds of years at this colosseum.  Wealthy Romans funded the events, ever practicing "one-ups-manship" with each successive performance.  At one point the arena was flooded to stage battleship fights and at another event hundreds of wild animals were brought in to compete with gladiators.  All very bizarre, until you think of today's Super Bowl football championships.  Have we really progressed in civility?
Inside the colosseum, you can view the rooms beneath the stage where wild animals, human gladiators and religious cultists, like the Christians, were held, before various entertainment exhibitions.  Sun canopies extended out over the bleachers for sections for seating of the wealthy Romans, such as the senators and their women.  Yes, at this point in history, women were possessions and became co-conspiritors to wield influence.

I am a "big picture" type thinker,  although I can focus on specific issues from time to time.  In the past few years I've been fascinated by the works of my 3 favorite authors: Layne Redmond, Craig Barnes and Leonard Shlain.  All of these authors write about the time in human evolution when we lost our love and respect for women in society.

Layne Redmond, in her book When the Drummers Were the Women, A Spiritual History of Women, offers proof that rhythm is our mother tongue, buried in the beat and burned at the stake, evoking a hunger for our true pre-written word roots.  Throughout pre-Christian history, drumming was used by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures as a medium of communication and spirituality and as a way of exploring human consciousness in connection to the surrounding world.  Growing out of a powerful feminine and goddess tradition, these mystical practices flourished in temples and secular life until they were forcibly suppressed by the advent of Christianity.
Cybele the Mother Goddess with her drum
Image by Google

Craig Barnes explains in his book, In Search of the Lost Feminine, the mysterious disappearance of ancient cultures in which women and the environment were at the center and how it came to be that societal forces shaped our current culture of misogyny and glorification of war. His focus is on the Minoan culture, cities linked around the Aegean Sea rim, centered on the islands of Crete and Akrotiri on Thera and most likely covered up for millennia by the volcanic shock wave and ash from the huge eruption of the volcano which blew apart the island of Thera, otherwise known today as Santorini.
Minoan Woman
Image by Google

Leonard Shlain, in his groundbreaking books, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, (The Conflict Between Word and Image), and Sex, Time and Power, (How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution), he proposes that the rise of alphabetic literacy - the process of reading and writing - fundamentally reconfigured the human brain, and brought about profound changes in history, religion, and gender relations.  Examining the cultures of the Israelites, Greeks, Christians, and Muslims, he reinterprets many myths and parables in light of his theory.  Shlain traces the effect of literacy on the Dark Ages, Mary, Gutenberg, the Reformation, and the witch hunts. 

Famous "Pieta" Statue in St. Peter's Basilica by Michaelangelo
Mary, mother of Jesus, mourns the death of her only child, a son, by crucifixion.  Mothers throughout time have worried about their children's health and well-being.  This particular visit to Rome struck a motherly chord for me.
So I studied Italian and wandered around Rome during my two week stay, with my son, who put up with me and my choices of things to do and places to visit.  Thank you sweetie!
Here I am facing the inside of St. Peter's on Sunday, searching for the section of the basilica where la messa is said by men, and sung by choirs of angels.  "Il Papa" wasn't saying mass, but "uno cardinale" was.  You press to the back of the expansive interior with all the others, beyond a gate, and act like a Roman Catholic.  It is one of the benefits of being raised a Roman Catholic, to understand what is going on, no matter where in the world you are attending the service.  It is a ritual I thoroughly enjoy.  Even though today mass is said in the native language of each country, I make the effort to recite and sing in the native voice whenever I can.
Molti bambini are baptized after Mass.  This was the first of many that Sunday.  Notice the huge baptismal font behind the mama and nonna and bambina.
The faithful come and go through the massive front doors and walk over the colorful marble floors that have felt many a footstep.

Under this red marble is buried the beloved Pope John XXIII.
The magnificent canopy where the Popes have said Masses for eons.
Outside after Mass were musicians and dancers, dancing dances of peace.  Of course I had to join in!  This short video of 13 seconds gives a taste of the action.
Once a month on a Sunday, the Vatican Museum is open for free.  It is just one complex of buildings that make up Vatican City.  Imagine the Louvre full of Catholic Church treasures.  Recognize this Chagall above?  There are numerous versions of "The Pieta" which means "the pity" in Italiano.
This above is a huge mural in one room of the Vatican Museum which was painted by Raphael Sanzio (1483 - 1520) depicting all the "movers and shakers and thinkers" of that time, hanging out in a fantasy time together, in the Roman Forum.  It's in the Room of Segnatura, which explains the room's function as the Papal library where official acts were signed.  Men, men and more men.  Where were the women?  

The painting above is called "School of Athens", and includes a multitude of philosophers surrounding the two greatest thinkers by this time, Plato in the center pointing up and Aristotle next to him pointing down.  Plato points up to remind us that mathematics and pure ideas are the source of truth, while Aristotle points down showing his preference for scientific study of the material world.  The bearded figure of Plato is none other than Leonardo da Vinci  - Raphael's tribute to the aging master.  Michelangelo is shown meditating, sitting with his head in his hand in the foreground.

Other thinkers of the world are depicted including Heracleitus, Euclid, Diogenes, Ptolomy, Zoroaster, Apollo surrounded by Muses, famous poets and men of letters, including Homer, Dante on the left in profile and Raphael himself second from the right in the green cap.
All the rooms in the Vatican apartments painted by Raphael lead up to the even more famous Sistine Chapel, painted over the lifetime of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564). 
Finally you get to the Sistine Chapel, after hours of wandering through room after room in the Vatican.  The Vatican City is actually considered a country.  Trust me - it feels like it when you are attempting to absorb it all in one afternoon.  Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, so this shot was taken surreptitiously when the guards weren't watching me.  I know for a fact that others are taking photos too - and the guards know it too - it's just a cat and mouse game.  Of course, it's for a couple of reasons:  flash photography over time can fade the colors  (they say, even though they are way up above you) and the second reason is that they want you to buy postcards in the gift shop.  What's so amazing about this ceiling art is all the three-dimensional optical illusions of depth and breadth, while it is all painted on a flat surface.  The whole chapel is a flat, vaulted room that Michelangelo created into a visual wonder of storytelling.

So it dawns on me around every corner of this masculine city with layers of stony testaments to men, hundreds of feet deep, that women were second class citizens, followed by the slaves.

But my feet are tired now...I will continue my Roman birthday ramblings in another posting with multi fotografia.  Buona Notte!