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Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

What a Way to Go!

September 15, 2014 | by

constans ii

A hexagram of Constans II struck in the Constantinople mint, struck ca. 648.

Sometimes power changes hands. Sometimes, perforce, the change is violent. And sometimes, albeit rarely, it involves a Byzantine emperor who’s assassinated in the bathtub, where his servant bashes his brains in with a silver bucket.

Such is the fate, putatively, that befell Constans II on September 15, 668, unless it befell him on July 15, 669, which is also eminently possible. As a historian on Reddit’s AskHistorians recently explained, “there is basically only one source for this, the eighth-century Theophilus of Edessa, who wrote a chronicle whilst serving the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. This work is now lost, but it was used by several later chroniclers, including the more well-known Theophanes from the ninth century.” Said historian goes on to quote an account by the tenth-century historian Agapius:

When Constans was in the bath, one of his attendants took a bucket, mixed in it mallow and soap, and put this on Constans’s head. While the latter’s eyes were filled with the mallow and soap, so that he could not open them, the attendant took the bucket and struck Constans on the head with it, so killing him. He rushed out of the bath to escape and no one heard any more of him. The servants remained outside waiting for the king to come out, but when they had been sitting a long time and it was getting late and he still had not come out, they entered the bath and found him unconscious. They brought him out and he lived for that day, but then died having reigned for twenty-seven years.

In a paper on the era’s Roman-Arab relations, the Oxford historian James Howard-Johnston collates a number of sources to offer a slightly different account: Read More »

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Taiye Selasi, Rome, Italy

October 4, 2013 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.

Taiye_Selasi

This summer I wrote my first ever article in Italian, considering why the Eternal City lures so many expat authors. In my limited Italian, I proposed three reasons—the beauty, the warmth, the un-ambitiousness—all of which come to mind when gazing at this view. When the sun begins to slip behind the gilded greens of the Janiculum, I’ll stare at the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, breathless every time. The sheer beauty of this ancient city—the scale of its churches, the density of its trees, the pastels of its facades, the voluptuousness of its clouds—is on full display from here.

My watch is the clock atop the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, adding its chimes to the cheerful din of chatter, car horns, laughter. There’s never a dull moment in the Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere; one can sense as much as hear the joy of social gathering. But it is Rome’s imperfection that I find so beguiling, an invitation to play: seagulls squawking, nonne bickering, paint chipping from the walls. —Taiye Selasi

 

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One Ring to Rule Them All

April 3, 2013 | by

Satellite

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Such is the object that starts Bilbo Baggins’s quest and, later, marks the glowing center of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. And some speculate that it was based on a real Roman ring, currently on display at a Hampshire mansion. 

Originally discovered by a farmer in the late eighteenth century in what the Guardian terms “one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country,” the ring was presumably sold to the family who owned the great house the Vyne.

It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading: “Senicianus live well in God.” A few decades later and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up: at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarfs Hill, a tablet with an inscribed curse was found. A Roman called Silvianus informs the god Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”

Here’s where Tolkien comes in. When archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler reexcavated Lydney in 1929, he consulted Professor Tolkien about the god’s unusual name; both men were apparently struck by the fact that the name appeared on both ring and curse.

Whether or not you believe this to be the inspiration for the One Ring, you can judge for yourself: it is on view, along with a copy of the curse and a first edition of The Hobbit, at the Vyne.

 

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Underwear Life: An Interview with Francesco Pacifico

March 12, 2013 | by

9780374270445_p0_v1_s260x420Francesco Pacifico’s novel The Story of My Purity is narrated by Piero Rosini. This Piero seems like most other modern schlubs—thirty, overweight, bourgeois, in a sexless marriage, you know it—but the thing that makes him unusual is his deep belief in Christ. This is the most Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. He is also the funniest Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. And what happens to Piero is some kind of picaresque adventure that takes him from Rome to Paris and beyond, into all the problems of his innocence. What else do you need to know about Piero’s creator? Francesco Pacifico is also a translator from English into Italian, and translation is something we talk about a lot. In fact, he has almost definitely read more fiction in English than you have. And if an inglese italianato is the devil incarnate, then what does that make an italiano americano? I just mean that Francesco Pacifico is one of the least innocent novelists I know.

There’s a moment where Piero says “nobody’s Roman,” and this setting of Rome is crucial to the book’s opening. So my first question is, are you Roman?

I am, and I’m not. I was born in Rome and have lived there all my life. But I don’t know how to cook trippa and pajata, I know nothing of Rome’s cuisine pauvre, my family’s half-assed culinary traditions are half abbruzzese and half everything. My father’s side comes from L’Aquila, Abbruzzio, where my granddad’s family was big during the Fascist era, or so I’m told. My mother’s side is from everywhere, the hills of Sabina, and remotely Spain and France, and they travelled the country as my granddad was an engineer for the electric company—Milan, Genoa, Terni. I don’t feel Roman. You can spot a real Roman from miles. Savvy, gritty, ironic. I’m not.

And now—to keep with first things first—could you talk a little about this theme of purity? It seems such a gorgeously perverse subject for a contemporary novel. What’s the beauty of purity?

I experimented with not having sex for years. And I am a renowned lover of women. There was a time in my midtwenties where I thought of my life as an ongoing piece of performance art, and I realized the big thing I should try was to stop having sex. I had this romantic view of my love for my girlfriend being exalted and enhanced by abstinence. I became impotent. Read More »

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Going Soft

January 29, 2013 | by

In Rome, I was cocky and competitive and altogether my usual self because the apartment we’d rented for the night was completely white—sheets, pillows, towels—and much bigger than expected, with a cow’s head mounted on a wall and great, familiar coffee and I might as well have been in Istanbul or Moscow or New York or the many other places I had lived and worked, and I was thinking, after all that, how hard could Italy be? What’s the big deal? Yet that concern about experience or mastery or difficulty was to miss an essential point. That a good thing doesn’t have to be hard.

At the pub downstairs, the guy my wife knew knew from Baghdad was telling my wife how to get into Syria. I sighed, feeling everything retighten. A light rain fell as we passed through the piazza, and I saw cops and I stared at their guns. Under heat lamps, we hefted tall glasses of blood-dark wine and when we ordered the final carafe, all this big talk about the usual terrible things, there was nothing to do but float home on a red river. Read More »

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The Year 476: An Illustrated Panorama

November 20, 2012 | by

History is full of linchpin dates around which the world is said to have pivoted. The year 476 is touted as the momentous one in which the Roman Empire fell and the world descended into a dark administrative vacuum inhabited by pillaging, horned demons. The reality is that, after blowing through dozens of emperors over the course of a generation, 476 was simply the year in which the ceremony of crowning yet another emperor didn’t seem worth the cost or trouble, and everyone stayed home.

What is usually absent from the “Rome fell” story is that the eastern half of the Roman Empire flourished for another thousand years. In fact, 476 was when things were just getting interesting.

The sixth-century historian Procopius wrote about his contemporaries in eastern Byzantine Rome in two works: one famous, one infamous. The first, the official history, paints a rosy picture of Emperor Justinian and his imperial accomplishments. The second, the “Secret History,” describes Justinian; his empress, Theodora; and their bosom companions General Belisarius and his wife, Antonina, as wicked, conniving, and so outrageously scandalous and beastly that the whole work has to be read as an act of either revenge or farce. Needless to say, the second one is a delight to read.

The following panels are culled from both works, and from lore about the period: a miscellany on the exciting century that followed 476.

Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.

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