The strength of the Pantheon: a question of concrete?

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I recently stumbled across an interesting article, sent to me by my dear brother-in-law. The title, ‘Why the Pantheon Hasn’t Crumbled’ immediately caught my attention, as does anything to do with ancient Rome. My wife and I have visited Rome a number of times and upon our first trip, we made a pit stop at the famous Pantheon to take in its breathtaking architecture as well as its incredible historical significance to 2nd century A.D. Rome. The Pantheon literally dominates the plaza before it where beautiful sculpted fountains and buildings stand before it, as if blessing it with reverence. It’s towering columns, intricate capitals and domed roof all reflect the beauty of Roman design, echoing with the shadows of history amongst the bustle of tourists. If you have not seen the Pantheon, I do hope that you will include this in your visit, should you ever venture upon Italy’s shores.

By Peter J. Fast

(Pictures taken by Peter J. Fast)

For the article ‘Why the Pantheon Hasn’t Crumbled’ by Colin Schultz of Smithsonian.com, I have included the link below, so click and enjoy the read.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientific-reason-why-pantheon-hasnt-crumbled-180953627/?no-ist

 

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Virgil, The Aeneid

“Arms I sing, and the man, who first from the shores of Troy came,

Fate exiled to Italy and her Lavinian strand.

Much buffeted he on flood and field by constraint of heaven,

And fell Juno’s unslumbering wrath.”

Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil), The Aeneid – 29 A.D.

Side note: In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans believed that if one was to infuriate a goddess so powerful, she might leave you stranded on foreign shores in some distant country as revenge. An excellent collection of writings, modeled after Homer’s Odyssey, and one of Rome’s most remembered poets and writers, Virgil has taken his place among the Classics of history which have been studied for nearly two millenia by intellects, historians, poets, and musicians. Virgil has inspired people from all continents and reminds us once more, the complex world of the ancients and how they perceived the universe they were apart of and sought to put that into writing. If you have never read or studied Virgil, I highly recommend you do as the rich text, poetry and tales will lift from the pages like Homer or Euripides. Enjoy!

By: Peter J. Fast

The Capitoline Wolf and the Twins: A look at the mythological roots of Roma

The Lupa Capitolina, otherwise known as the Capitoline Wolf, is one of the ancient symbols of Rome associated with its mythology and founding. It is a symbol which can still be seen all throughout Italy and the city of Rome, and continues to be associated with the Italian people (similar to the acronym S.P.Q.R- Senatus Populusque Romanus).

When one visits Rome today, they can expect to see this famous image on storm drains, paintings, sculptures, signs, emblems, and flags. It is interwoven into the Roman psyche so much that it has maintained a fusion with the people who still look back on it as the legendary foundation of their roots. But, what exactly is the legend, who told it and where did it come from?

The origins of the Capitoline Wolf are wrapped up in the tale of the two young twins, Romulus and Remus and their foster-mother, the Wolf. The legend also descends into shame and treachery when Remus is murdered by his brother followed later by the rape of the Sabine women which are the two most discreditable features of the ancient lore. In T.J. Cornell’s exhaustive history on the early and ancient roots of Rome, entitled “The Beginnings of Rome“, he thoroughly outlines the depth of this legend by adding that, “all of them (aspects of the legend) were at various times exploited by Rome’s enemies and by Christian critics of her pagan traditions.” (Cornell, pg. 60) The early tales of Rome surely did speak of pagan mythology, as well as the violence that was credited to its beginning, but the fable nonetheless has persevered over two millenniums and continues to be the favoured interpretation of Rome’s foundation due to its drama to explain its existence and founding.

The story of Romulus and Remus is short but dramatic to appease the appetite of the scholar or individual interested in mythologies of the ancient world. It has the similar colour to the story that other tales, legends and myths have from the ancient world, and also ties in the world of the gods to that of what occurs on earth as a connection to the supernatural. It would always give an individual or people more clout if one could associate their existence as being deemed and blessed by the gods. The legend echoes the common tales circulating the ancient world. It is about persons who grow up to become kings, founders, conquerors, explorers, heroes and religious leaders. “Well known examples include Cyrus of Persia, Semiramis the founder of Babylon, Sargon the founder of the Akkadian dynasty, Ion the ancestor of the Ionians, the Trojan princes Paris and Aeneas, the Greek heroes Perseus and Oedipus, the usurper Aegisthus (the murderer of Agamemnon), Cypselus the tyrant of Corinth, the Sassanian king Shapur, and Pope Gregory the Great.” (Cornell, pg. 61-62)

As the legend goes, the maternal grandfather of the twins was a man named Numitor, who was the rightful king and leader of the kingdom of Alba Longa. It was Numitor, who the Romans believed to be the descendent of the Trojan prince Aeneas who had escaped the destruction of the city, Troy. Numitor was also known as the father to Rhea Silvia who was also widely known by the name of Illia. As the legend went, Numitor’s brother, Amulius deposed him and killed his sons forcing Rhea to flee and become one of the sacred Vestal Virgins. It was the purpose of Amulius to seize power and thus deprive his brother of a rightful heir so he could reign supreme. However, Rhea gave birth to twins, Romulus and Remus through the supernatural procreation with either Mars (later Roman god of war and blood) or Hercules (Greek association with Heracles). Amulius, who knew about the pregnancy, took the twins once they were born and abandoned them to die. This, by all means should have been the end of the twins through the old practice of infanticide, but they were discovered by a she-wolf (lupa) who then suckled them recognizing them to be half-immortal and from the bloodline of gods. Later, a shepherd and his wife found the twins and raised them until they were men who became shepherds themselves. When the twins discovered the treachery of their past, they killed Amulius, restored Numitor to the throne and decided to found a city of their own.

The two twins ventured until they came to the River Tiber where they decided that this should be the location of their new city. The legend is really divided into two possible tales, with one of them simply resulting in the death of Remus without murder being implied. However, the more dramatic one of course, as told by the Roman historian Livy, who tells of the twins competing for a location and name, chasing each other around, attempting to build the foundational walls and then fighting bitterly until Romulus kills his brother. It is said that Remus had leapt over Romulus’ wall to discredit him and thus was killed in turn with his brother Romulus stating, “So perish everyone that shall hereafter leap over my wall.” Thus, the city is founded and named Roma in what Roman historians dated it at 758 B.C.

One of the best, and most current evidence to suggest that the legend of the She-Wolf and the Twins was part of Rome’s archaic age exists in the famous bronze statue which now stands in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Capitoline Museum). This has been dated to the 6th century B.C. and originates from the Etruscan people of northern Italy who were later conquered by the Roman kings, later to be absorbed into the Roman Empire with unified Italy as the source of political and judicial power. Historians and archaeologists alike have ample evidence to believe that the story of the Twins was added to the existence of the She-Wolf by around 300 B.C.  which had become the standard story in Rome. “It was officially proclaimed to the world in 269 B.C. when a representation of the she-wolf and twins appeared on one of the first issues of Roman silver coins.” (Cornell, pg. 61)

“The story was accepted in Rome precisely because it was an old and indigenous legend, and because its main features, uncongenial though they may have appeared to later apologists, were too well established in the tradition to be ignored or suppressed.” (Cornell, pg. 61) The people and society had accepted the story of Romulus and Remus to be a truthful account of the founding of their city and an explanation of its existence. It did not matter if the common belief was that the gods had dabbled and had a part in the founding, for it was customary, at the time in pagan society, to believe that the gods interacted with mankind, could procreate with them, and sometimes appeared to them. Like the Greeks who used the myths of the gods and goddesses to explain their existence and purpose in the world, so would the Romans adopt such beliefs to shape and understand their life and later manifest destiny to control the known world.

Whatever elements of truth may or may not lay in the ancient legend, it is sure that the tale of Romulus and Remus would in ways foreshadow the centuries of Roman influence and dictatorship upon the world to come. These similarities from the history of Rome compared with the founding mythology would follow an evolution of: survival, intervention, humbleness, glory, greed, power, self-deification and treachery. Rome would struggle in countless wars, oppress nations of people, take slaves from every country under the sun, fight civil war after civil war, and hunger for wealth, power and glory. Nearly a quarter of the world would live under the rule of the Caesars and the dreams and nightmares that would follow would all point back to the two helpless twins being suckled by the she-wolf.

By Peter J. Fast

Photos taken by author

 

A Tale of Two Cities: Firenze and Roma

My trip to Italy and visiting Florence and Rome

Let’s take a different spin from my usual articles to a more relaxed, adventure state of mind…

I have always been fascinated by the history of ancient Rome which can be attributed I think, to two incredible epic movies which I saw as a young boy, Ben-Hur and Spartacus. There the viewer sees fast paced chariot races, gladiators, Roman sea battles, and legions of soldiers deploying for battle. To so many people today the Romans appear as distant, almost mythical individuals who lived so long ago, yet when I was young, I could imagine the roars of the mob in the Coliseum, hear the beat of marching feet, and gaze at their inspiring Temples and architecture. The Romans venerated both the human body and pleasure which is called Hedonism, and yet they were people who shaped the world as we know it, instituted a style of government most Western powers today are built upon, and still capture the imagination of everyone who ever reads about them or climbs the Palatine Hill. Even today legionaries from ancient history patrol the streets, threatening anyone they perceive to be a barbarian (as demonstrated in the picture.)

For a break from the hectic life of work, my wife Deanna and I fulfilled a long desire to see Italy, and we did so by visiting two of the most incredible cities in the country, Firenze and Roma. Besides being the hub of world fashion, and awesome cars, Italy is a beautiful country of rolling green hills, snow capped mountains, vineyards, and winding roads. It is both enchanting and ancient. It speaks of a long, rich history and at the same time reminds us of the dark corridors of barbaric cruelty that remain (i.e. the Coliseum and past civil wars).

Our visit to Firenze instantly immersed us into the world of art, Hellenism, beautiful cathedrals, and famous museums. For the first time in our lives we could cast our eyes upon original paintings and statues that we had only looked at in books. We could study the Baroque architecture, climb the high steps of the Sainta Novella Cathedral, and taste the wonders of Italian piazza, cheese, wine, ice cream and salami. We walked the halls of the Uffizi and Academia Museums, saw the illustrious David of Michelangelo, visited the Piazza dell Republicca (which had been the ancient Roman Forum) and sauntered through streets and courtyards that had existed since Medieval times. As a fashion guru, it was great to see all the designers, and frustrating to drool over the incredible suits, shirts, and shoes and not be able to purchase any of them as they were all so expensive. For example: I saw a beautiful silk scarf to match a suit attire and its price was a wapping 460euro…and then to my agony I saw a man about ten minutes later in a cafe wearing that exact scarf! Argh! Anyway, we spent three days in Firenze exploring much of the city and then caught a train to travel through Tuscany, south to Roma.We planned to spend four days in Roma, which still wasn’t enough. Roma is like one big museum with literally hundreds of sights to take in all at once. The other problem is everywhere you look is a “picture worthy” shot. From the piazza’s with their gorgeous statues (i.e. Trevi Fountain and Novona) to the incredible beauty of Ancient Rome and the Forum was spectacular. We were able to see Trajan’s Pillar, the Arch of Constantine and Titus, tour the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, walk through the Forum, see the Temple of Mithras, visit the ruins of Nero’s palace, the baths of Septimus Severus, or Hadrian’s Palace was like a dream for a historian as myself. It was also wonderful to tour the Capitoline Museum for over four hours, and see the Pantheon which houses the remains of the oldest Temple to Minerva. Also, I could not get enough of the wonderful Italian coffee, did I mention the pizza,:) the pasta, and all the other delights. It was not as romantic as Firenze, but the feel of Roma is one both bustling and modern but still clinging to its ancient heritage. This was clear in the “SPQR” emblazoned on everything from buses to police uniforms to sewer grates. Also the Capitoline She-Wolf was everywhere, which is the ancient myth of the beginning of Rome with the twins Romulous and Remus suckling at the wolf.

Now, I must say a few things about the Capitoline Museum before I conclude. This is a must see if you ever visit Roma and you enjoy history and art. It is housed in three incredible buildings from the 16th century, and is filled with thousands upon thousands of amazing statues. From the remains of the giant statue of Constantine, to the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, to the Dying Gaul, it was a treat and a labyrinth of constant “oos” and “ahhs”. When we left we were speechless and appreciative. We felt as if we had journeyed back in time and witnessed the art and ingenuity of the Roman age.

So…go to Firenze and Roma and see for yourself, and if you are not as much into history, enjoy the food and wine. 🙂

By, Peter J. Fast