Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

This is Miscellany page 71, started in mid-August 2018
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Aug 15 - Friend Warren reminded me of my earlier item (at this link) about Thomas Nast, American political cartoonist who personally travelled to Garibaldi's 1860 campaign and sent back material that helped to galvanize US public opinion in the support of Italian unity. Warren then referred me to a fascinating book entitled, Domesticating Foreign Struggles: The Italian Risorgimento and Antebellum American Identity (paperback, 216 pages, publisher: University of Georgia Press (2012), ISBN-10: 0820343412). It is by Paola Gemme, assistant professor of American studies and English at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas. The author went to the Nast archives at Princeton and searched his letters and articles from the period to talk about some of the things that Nast did not like about the new revolutionary Naples:

[Nast] ...also employed images of sexual irregularity to express his censure of the revolution. When his sketch "Street Scenes in Naples the Day after the Arrival of Garibaldi," representing a parade of supporters of the revolutionary cause, was published in The Illustrated London News on 29 September 1860, it was accompanied by a brief article that disparagingly described the enthusiasm of the Neapolitans as the "political carnival" of an "insane multitude... prey to a Bacchanalian fury." Indeed, it is as a society in disarray that Nast chose to represent Naples in the aftermath of its liberation from the Bourbon's tyranny. The young woman at the center of the sketch walks arm in arm with one of Garibaldi's volunteers. And she is guilty of more than a public display of sexual intimacy. In fact, her military hat and the dagger she rather threateningly holds are a form of cross-dressing, a usurpation of masculine attire and attitudes in complete opposition to the code of regulating female behavior. She has, moreover, covered her gown with patriotic ribbons, thus transforming her dress into a declaration of her political stance. The same is true of the older woman leading the procession, whose apron, normally a piece of clothing worn within the house and for the performance of household duties, is now embroidered with the countenance of General Garibaldi and thus serves a public rather than domestic function. The banner of the king of Italy that she carries is a symbol of order ironically waving over a society turned upside down, where women have moved from the private world of domesticity to the public world of war and politics. And in the case of the latter woman, the ugliness of her features is a clear indication of the artist's censure of her conduct.
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Aug 15 - This photo is by Raffaele Delle Cave. He shared it on Instagram and it already has boatloads (HAH!) of tourists saying, "Hey, I'm a tourist, I have been to the island of Procida, I walk a lot. How come I don't know about this? This natural pool near the Chiaiozza beach on Procida is likely to remain a "secret" even to those of you who like to think you know where you're going. It's very hard to walk down to, so unless you stumble on it in a kayak or tumble over a cliff, forget it.

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Aug 15 - Oh, today is August 15, the holiday known as Ferragosto, which comes from Ferro (Iron) + agosto (August). Yessiree!  Iron August! That is what my friends and I all call it because we're not Italian. That etymology is absolutely specious and possibly even wrong. The holiday goes back to the summer festivities instituted by Caesar Augustus and called (Feriae Augusti / holidays of Caesar Augustus,). The day is a public holiday in Italy. It's the deadest day of the year, unless you pick today to actually leave, in which case you wind up in a nation-wide traffic jam that will last until you are whimpering (and seeing) Autumn Leaves as you beat your head against the steering wheel. Go yesterday or last week. Some make the whole month a vacation. Only TV reporters stay at their posts to report on people who are on vacation and are enjoying the hell out of their ulcers worrying about the large gas explosion in their home town they just heard about. ("Honey, did you remember to turn off the gas?"  "Dear, did you remember to euthanize the dog?" Is that any worse than dropping faithful Fido off to its grisly fate by the side of the road and then speeding away? -- which is what a lot of people do!)
And don't get sick or have an accident today; yesterday was the last day for that. Oh, no one really knows who put in that extra r in  feriae to get ferro. Some scholars think that Augustus Caeser was from the island of Sardinia, where they speak a dialect that consistently doubles its consonants, but that is surely adiaphorus. Or maybe not.

add Aug 22 - Lady of Info, Selene Salvi, says: "You know, we have a strange custom here at Ferragosto. They prepare hot broth! Every Ferragosto a friend of mine used to invite us over for the bowl of hot broth. Luckily he forgot about us this year. He does it because he says summer is over and winter is starting. I've heard he is not the only one who feels that way."  Indeed not. There is a Neapolitan proverb that says: Aùsto cap’ ‘e vierno [August is the beginning of winter].

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Aug 17 - Today is Friday the 17th! Unlike many cultures that view Friday the 13th as unlucky, in Italy today is the day of bad luck. The Friday part may be traceable to the fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday. In ancient Rome, Friday was the day on which executions were carried out and also the day when Romans paid their taxes. The number 17 is unlucky apparently because if you write 17 with Roman numerals as XVII, you can rearrange those numerals as letters to read VIXI; in Latin that means "I have lived" and is in the past perfect tense/aspect (i.e. it describes a finished action); thus, "I have lived (and am done living). My life is over." [This just in from one of our Baker St. Irregulars, Suzanne Toll: "That's the perfect tense, by the way, not the past perfect. VIXIT or VIXERUNT (plural) was announced in Ancient Rome after an execution to indicate that the person or persons were no longer alive, as Cicero did when he announced that the Catilianarian conspirators were no longer living after they were strangled in the Tullianum prison.  Supposedly, announcing it in this way avoided using the word "dead," which would bring bad luck, if used."] Yes, she really said, "By the way".
     So, put Friday and 17 together and you have a very unlucky day! In the smorfia, the Neapolitan tradition of interpreting dreams as numbers to bet on in the lottery, the number 17 is associated with disgrazia — an accident or disaster. Thus, in Naples, if you dream of such, bet on 17 as one of your numbers. If you win and are thus lucky by betting on an unlucky number, I think they all get together and beat you up. I'm not sure if the word for "fear of Friday the 17th" is friggaheptakaidekaphobia or friggadekaheptaphobia. Frigga was the Norse goddess Friday is named for. I should stop now. It would be just my Frigga-luck if my computer started to act  x^ci**%tz.....

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Aug 19 -
f you need a refresher course on EUR / E42 and the first image (right), it's here, but all you really to need to know is that there is more to this poster than you might think. Assume you already know that this big Fascist arch meant for the Universal Exposition of 1942 in Rome was never built (the Exposition never took place because of WWII). The design was by Adelberto Libera, well-known architect of the 1930s in Italy. The design, however, was later "borrowed" by Eero Sarinnen for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. At least some local architects didn't like the euphemism "borrow". Hey, you lost the war, the winners take your stuff. Live with it.

But, there is some very arc(h)-trivia to this thing.

The earlier Overseas Exposition in Naples, built to trumpet Mussolini's empire in Africa, opened on time in 1939, and had planned to include, way back at the west end, where Edenlandia now stands, an amusement park / Fun Fair for the kiddies. It was never finished. But someone remembered. Look at the image (on the left) of the arches that were installed at the front of Edenlandia when it reopened in 2017! It is out of the question that they just built those things. They pulled them out of storage where they had lain for decades like malevolent toys in a goofy horror film, just waiting to spring into action... just biding their time ...some day ...some day. But there's more. The third image (right) is of Benito Mussolini's signature. Look a the first letter. Yes, the arch into the M. You mean there was an architect so fawning and obsequious, that he was inspired by the very shape of The Leader's handwriting?

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Waiting for Parthenope

Aug 23 - Last year's first exhibit of the new art collective in Naples, Opus Continuum, was very successful, as you may judge here for yourselves. I thought they just finished, but that was a few months ago, I see. Well, they went home, bathed, painted, and did whatever else artists do for a few days and then came right back to prepare for 2019. These folks are not messing around! They moved all the paintings out of the way and cleaned and painted the entire building! Then they put everything back in place. Looks nice (image, right). Today, I got this note from Selene Salvi, one of the founders of the organization:
Today we set up our exhibit in the Casina Pompeiana again. Here is a preview of our upcoming exhibit :

"IMMAGINARIA 2019" - Under the auspices of the Opus Continuum  cultural association.: "In the footsteps of Parthenope".  We shall guide you on a trip to the distant past, into the collective imagination of the Parthenopean people, a people that has built its identity on the ashes of a goddess from afar and made a trademark of the virtue of hospitality. We shall ask and answer: Who was Parthenope? What does her name mean? What did she normally sing? What did she look like? Was she human or animal? Do she bring good fortune or bad? Where did she live? Above all, where was she buried?

All coming soon to the Casina Pompeiana, Villa Comunale in Naples! We are going to prepare a short film, as well. And we are about to hold auditions to choose the actress who will play Parthenope. I know, I know... not much left to do!
More at Oct. 2, below.

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Cultural Routes
Aug 24 -
The Council of Europe offers over 30 "Cultural Routes" -- itineraries that include different spheres
of activity, from The Vikings to The Phoenicians to Prehistoric Rock Art to Mozart to the Route of Jewish Heritage and Route of Historic Thermals (the image from that route is seen on the right). All of them have been chosen for what they have meant in defining "Europe" since the time of Charlemagne. In spite of periodic differences with terrible consequences, these routes are what Europeans would like to feel still binds them through a shared and living cultural heritage. Where are the olive groves, the forests, the vineyards, the paths for religious pilgrims, etc.? How do you get there? How do you follow a trail you have chosen? There is informative text with each, plus photos, of course. It's an ambitious project. This is undoubtedly one of those websites that offers too much, but once you're hooked... well, see for yourselves.

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Via degli Abruzzi

Aug 29 - The Via degli Abruzzi (the Abuzzi Road) was a medieval route that connected Florence with Naples (Firenze and Napoli on the map) by way of the area known as the Abuzzi, the mountainous area in the Apeninne mountains (where L'Aquila is located on the map). There is documented use of this route in the High Middle Ages (c. 1000 - 1250 AD), the "Golden Age" being from the 1200s through the 1400s. It was a fundamental part of the commercial wool market as well as that of the prized spice of saffron and other products native to the area of L'Aquila. The road thus contributed to the economic growth of that part of the Abuzzi.

The road joined the two great capitals of Florence and Naples, passing through Perugia, L'Aquila, Sulmona, Isernia, and Capua, as noted by the Tuscan merchant Franceso Balducci Pergolotti (1315 -1340) in his monumental La pratica della mercatura (The Merchant Trade) from 1343, who said that the whole route could be traversed in around 12 days even without "putting the paddle to the saddle" (it's about 450 km / 300 mi by today's roads, a good drive). Rather than a single unified stretch, it was more of a network of roads (some of them ancient Roman roads) stitched together and referred to by the single name, the Abruzzi Road. It passed through what were, at the time, three separate nations (the Republic of Florence, the Church or Papal States, and the Kingdom of Naples, thus connecting northern and central Italy, but keeping clear of the ancient imperial by-ways (the old "consular roads" all of which all "led to Rome." You see from the map that Rome (the red circle on the map) is completely by-passed. The ancient capital wasn't even that important in the period in question. Rome as the capital of a single nation, Italy, is still a few centuries in the future. [There is an entry here on the Rebirth of Rome in the Renaissance.]

The first stretch went from Florence to Perugia and Spoleto and was also called the Via Umbra (the Umbrian Road), for short stretches overlapping the ancient Roman roads, the Via Flaminia and the via Salaria. It then passed into Sannio (called Samnium in ancient times) and practically coincided totally with what is today's State Road 17. Then the route turned down in the direction of Naples. In the north, the road had various connections to Milan and Venice.

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Sept. 19 — Today is the Roman Catholic Feast Day of San Gennaro (St. Januarius), the patron saint of the city of Naples and the day on which believers await the "Miracle of San Gennaro" (the "miracle" refers to the liquefaction of the clotted blood of the saint. See the above link for more than you want to know). If it happens, it is considered a good omen for the city in the coming year. If it doesn't...? Well, that has happened, too. Spoiler alert: it happened this morning. It's strange that even atheists feel better when the miracle happens; after all, as the great mathematician, but awful philosopher, Blaise Pascal, hedged in his lily-livered "wager", "Golly, you never can tell, so you might as well believe." What guts!) Those who refuse to believe in miracles may scoff at the affair, but even nominal Roman Catholics wait for it. This is not taken lightly even in the nation at large. The event was carried live on national TV. The vial was held aloft by cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, for all to see. The affair was bizarre on TV because of the great number of smartphones also being held aloft to capture the moment (which is different from being in the moment). I can't think of an opposite of Yeats' " drops of frozen rainbow light"  but that's what it was: maybe alien tentacles waving about holding up a quivering sea of appendages powered by lithium ion batteries that are always just a prayer away from catching on fire anyway, so all you saw were hundreds of these thing waving about. (And a Voice spake, saying, "For Me's sake, people, will you please put those damned things down!)  Anyway, doctors who have seen "miracles" but are required by science to use the term "spontaneous remission" more or less say what Pope Francis said when asked who could get into Heaven: "How do I know?" So, take it or leave it, but there it is.

Silver bust of San Gennaro donated by Charles II of Anjou in 1305, in the Naples cathedral

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Amber Books of Bugs

Sept. 23 That's the shortest title I could think of that would still remind me what this is about: amber. I really have only a few phrases from my checkered past about amber. One is, of course, the line "amber waves of grain" from Kathryn Lee Bates' lyric to the hymn, America the Beautiful. Another was Forever Amber, a 1944 scorching historical novel by Kathleen Winsor as well as an even more scorching 1947 film version, both of which wound up on every Roman Catholic Thou shalt Not Read/See Index. Suffice it to say that if you are a Roman Catholic and have ever read the book or seen the film, brethren and cistern, you  are going straight to Scorch City unless you can show beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not enjoy the experience. I had also heard the expression "like a bug in amber" (image, right) and also learned recently that "Amber nectar" is Australian slang for beer because it (1) looks like amber (copperish) or (2) tastes like copper or (3) has bugs in it or (4) all three. There is no gentle way to say this. Amber is fossilized tree resin. It has been valued since antiquity for its color and natural beauty and widely used in jewelry. As noted, amber sometimes contains animal and plant material known as inclusions. (If you have anything like the image dangling from an ear lobe, nipple, or lip, please seek help.) Speaking of Aussies, the nick-name Aussie is pronounced by Aussies, themselves, as /ˈɒzi/ (Ozzie) and if you say AW-see with a sharp, unvoiced /s/ that is considered by Ozzies to be a gross American error. Well, la-dee-da.             Thanks to Soo-Hung Ng for the IPA keyboard and the Ozzie info.

Important for us is the Amber Road (image, right). From at least the 16th century BC Amber was transported from the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts, which produced particularly prized amber, to Italy, Greece, the Black Sea, and Egypt. Ancient trade routes between Northern and Southern Europe were defined by the amber trade, which took this "gold of the north" to the south. That is historically verifiable, that is, there was a direct
land route from the Baltic to southern Europe. It traded in amber.  BUT... (ah-HAH!)

A two-sentence abstract of a new study says
Amber from Sicily arrived in Iberia as early as the 4th Millennium BC, some 2,000 years before the appearance of Baltic amber to the peninsula. New study also suggests that Baltic amber reached Iberia via the Mediterranean not via direct trade with the North.
The first sentence is ok. There is, in fact, a local amber in Sicily, where it is also called semitite. It is interesting that it was being traded around the Western Mediterranean as early as the 4th Millennium BC, at least 2,000 years before the arrival of any Baltic amber in the Mediterranean via any overland Amber Road. I'm not sure about the second sentence ..."also suggests..." I don't see how the existence of Sicilian amber and how it moved around the Mediterranean has anything to do with how Baltic amber got there two thousand years later. (The original U. of Cambridge report is here.) I'm probably missing something.
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Pompeii and Delos (sister cities)

Sept. 26   Pompeii (with the Roman spelling of two ii's to emphase the ancient site) and Delos in Greece) are self-declared "sister cities." The island of Delos is at the center of the Cyclades archipelago located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. The archipelago contains some 2,200 islands, islets and rocks, just 33 of which are inhabited. For the ancients, all the islands formed a circle (kyklos in Greek) around Delos, the sacred island, hence the name of the archipelago. The island is tiny and a short swim from -- and administered by -- the well-known tourist trap (sue me!) of the island of Mykonos.

In mythology and archaeology Delos is one of the most important sites in Greece and, indeed, was a holy sanctuary centuries before later Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Gods-come-lately such as Apollo. Some ancient pre-Greek names are still preserved, such as Mt. Kynthos. The ongoing excavations on the island are extensive and have been going on since the late 1800s.

The small island has given us a spectacular array of temples and mosaics (pictured) and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an "exceptionally extensive and rich" archaeological site that "conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port." The population today is a mere14-20 permanent residents (!) (plus some archaeologists). They say that in around 90 BC, 30,000 persons (!) lived harmoniously on this speck of an island. They came from all over the Mediterranean! It was indeed a cosmopolitan port-city.

This reconstruction of the ancient port of Delos is a detail
of a larger illustration by Francesco Corni, one of the most
prominent archaeological illustrators of the 20th century in
Italy. It appeared in Bell'Europa magazine in 1995.
The large palace-culture on Crete [240 km /140 to the south of Delos, at the bottom of the map image in the first paragraph] arose in around 2700 BC and gave us Europe's first advanced civilization, the Minoans. The Cyclades islands then largely faded into insignificance. Delos did not. It retained its place as a sanctuary and center of commerce. Delian life was no doubt aware of  the great eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (Santorini) (110 km / 70 mi to the south, halfway to Crete) sometime in the 16th century BC, but life went on. There is still great scholarly debate about why that palace-culture of Crete then succumbed to the Myceneans. It is unlikely that the culture was simply destroyed by that eruption. (cont. below box)

box added July 12, 2019  (this box also appears as item 4 in Miscellany 74)

Mystery of the Cyclades

Greece and the Cyclades                

Everyone knows at least a little bit about ancient Egypt, right? They came before the ancient Greeks and had pyramids and mummified pharaohs. That's all you need. The ancient Greeks? They had Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, A2+B2=C2, Zeus and a few other divine hangers-on. Congratulations. You have passed Ancient History 101 and will get your "bare-bones participation certificate" if I don't forget to mail it.

But what about the Cyclades, that group of Greek islands (image), totally wrapped in mystery but one of the great movers of early European culture even before the Bronze Age (c. 3,000 BC)? What? They had pyramids! What? Great art, too (image), and links to the south (Crete) and likely to the west (Sicily). These islands are the center of active archaeological research to uncover the real beginnings of ancient Greek civilization. The investigations are called the Keros project and reveal "the largest prehistoric marine transport operation that has ever come to light anywhere in the world," says Dr Julian Whitewright, a leading maritime archaeologist at the University of Southampton. The ancient transport undertaking meant hauling 10,000 tons of white marble from Naxos, an island some 6.5 miles (11 km) away. Archaeologists say it would have taken over 3,500 trips with 24 sailors rowing solidly for five hours in open water, all to reshape a tiny island into a sacred pyramid. It was part of a worldwide explosion of monumental building. The ruined pyramid of Keros (known today as Dhaskalio) is roughly the same age as Stonehenge, the lost city of Eridu in Iraq, and the earliest pyramids in Egypt. Why Delos? That has yet to be determined. So maybe you've been to Greece and even the Cyclades -- that is, you've been to that tourist trap Mykonos. Golly. You tourist.

These references are useful:

  • Barber, R. L. N. (1987). The Cyclades in the Bronze Age. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
  • Renfrew, A.C., (1987). Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6612-5

That may seem counter-intuitive since the eruption, after all, was cataclysmic for the immediate area (as was Vesuvius for Pompeii, but not from 100 km away. See image, right. That cloud of "fallout" is barely 15 km long.) Both eruptions were what are now called Plinian (or Vesuvian) eruptions), but Thera / Santorini was worse. (On the 8-level index of volcanic intensity now in use, Vesuvius is judged to have been a 5, Thera a 7, but the Greek  volcano collapsed onto and into itself, putting a hole in the earth's crust. That's called a caldera. Vesuvius did not, but we have had one of those, as well -- see this link.) People in Neapolis, just a few miles away, probably reacted to the eruption of Vesuvius that killed Pompeii in the same way they react to everything. They run around like chickens with their heads cut off and then see that that the chickens are still clucking and asking, "What's for lunch?" So, port city, mosaics, and volcano. In a broad Greco-Roman context, then, the two cities, Pompeii and Delos have a few things in common.

That will come out in an exhibition in a few months in Rome called Cities of Volcanoes, emphasizing the similarity between Naples and Delos. As a run-up to that, Massimo Osanna, the director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park has offered a display that should open around Christmas of selected items from Mykonos in a recent exhibit called Vanity: Stories of Jewelry in the Cyclades. The exhibit on display in Greece displayed about 200 items of historic Greek jewelry plus some modern counterparts. The Pompeii version will include a comparison of Greek and Roman jewelry. The real purpose of this collaboration is for the two directors to compare notes on upgrading both archeological sites and develop the "sister city" approach. The sites have many similarities in problems of restoration and conservation. Osanna's lengthy press interview included these comments:

“...[we] decided to undertake extensive renovation [of Pompeii] [...] that approaches the archaeological site holistically. That is also being planned for Delos, i.e. we are approaching the enhancement of that site holistically. [...] The origins of Pompeii have been discussed at length since the 19th century. There are scholars who say it was an Italian city [i.e. early Italic people native to the peninsula], others say it was Greek and some say Etruscan. During research this last year, amazing data was located connected to its founding and now it is my opinion that Pompeii was an Etruscan city. It is however significant that Pompeii of the 7th and 6th c. BC was an open community and that those who founded it had very strong cultural ties with Greece. We have stylistic traces in the architecture of the buildings that show this link between Etruscan families of Pompeii and Greek architects and craftsmen who came from Italy’s Greek colonies.”
Important for casual tourists to Pompeii: Yes, you are looking at a Roman city, but the Romans didn't found it. They just found it and made it their own. But it had been there for some time.

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Oct 1 This is a continuation of "Bank Robbers and Modern Latin" at this entry.

ow Do You Say "Shake, Rattle and Roll" in Latin?
 --The answer?  Quate, Crepa, Rota.

If you thought Asterix was a glorious waste of time, wait till you meet Dr. Jukka Ammondt (b. 1944) a professor of European Romantic literature at Finland's Jyväskylä University. He has made a name for himself in more scatterbrained academic circles (I agree that we need more of those!) by recording the music of Elvis Presley in Latin... and Sumerian, the language of ancient Mesopotamia! All you need to know about Sumerian is that it went extinct about 4,000 years ago because not even native speakers could learn it -- or as Dr. Ammondt says in his classic Sumerian version of "Blue Suede Shoes", "On my sandals of sky-blue leather do not step!").

Back to Latin. Dr. Ammondt said that while he was going through a very painful divorce, Elvis appeared to him in a dream (that may be a misplaced adverbial modifier -- Jukka was going through the divorce, not Elvis) and told him to translate his songs into Latin. "I wanted to honor Elvis with something eternal,'' he explains. "Latin united the whole Western world.'' Jukka
(I don't know him, but I like him, hence the first name) has released albums with recordings, among many others, of:

Nunc hic aut numquam       Tutti Frutti
Tenere me ama                  All shook up
Nunc distrahor                   Love Me Tender
Totus Potus                        It's Now or Never

Oh, those are not in order. Match them yourselves.
Hey, these people are all over. I refer you to the Wikipedia list of Modern Latin Authors.

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Oct 2 Selene Salvi writes that the “OPUS CONTINUUM” cultural association has laid the groundwork for the second edition of the "IMMAGINARIA" art exhibit, called In the Footsteps of Parthenope, to be held next March (the first edition, held earlier this year, is at this entry; same location: the Casina Pompeiana in the Villa comunale of Naples).

The groundwork really was that. They pounded a lot of ground, up and down the hillsides of the Sorrentine peninsula and way out to the very end, Punta Campanella, with cameras, director, stand-ins and crew to prepare a short film called In the Footsteps of Parthenope at locations that mythology links with the Siren, the mythological female creature for whom the city was named and is the ... "source of our inspiration, the imaginary origin of our story and our history." Then, way up to the top (image, right -- no spoiler alert! I really don't know if she goes over!)

way down to an ancient Oscan stairway past an inscription in that language (image, right) attesting to the location of a sanctuary dedicated to the Tyrrhenian Minerva (the Italic version of Athena) and down to the Grotto of the sirens... "the three openings of which still murmur their incessant, hypnotic song."
The full text of their announcement in English plus additional photography is on the Opus Continuum Facebook page. The team has also made a short video of their hike along the so-called Land of the Sirens, that is, the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula, where they had all this fun. It is on this separate Facebook page.        photos: Fulvio De Marinis

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Spectacular Fresco Finds at Pompeii

Oct 10 It is both exciting and a bit eerie to know that almost 20 centuries after the great eruption of Vesuvius (79 AD) that choked Pompeii to death, there are still unexplored parts of the city, where it is as quiet as it has ever been. Here is where you can still find hidden treasures like this richly painted house with "incredibly intact frescoes," but it is so. This one is near Porta Vesuvio and the frecoes are inside a lararium,  a shrine to the guardian spirits (named for the lares, the protectors of the ancient Roman home). It has just been discovered / uncovered.

Lares belonged within the "bounded physical domain" under their protection. Statues of domestic Lares were placed at the table during family meals; their presence and blessing was important at family events. Compared to Rome's major deities Lares had limited power but their identity was important and central in Roman life. For example, homeward-bound Romans might say that they were returning ad Larem (to the Lar). (Plausibly the term comes from the custom of early Rome's Etruscan neighbors, who practiced domestic, ancestral and family cults similar to those of the later Romans, and there is an Etruscan word, lar, lars, or larth, meaning "lord".) This lararium, with walls painted with snakes, a peacock, golden beasts fighting a black wild boar, and skies adorned with birds, is already being termed an "enchanted garden" by those working painstakingly on the site to remove the grime of ages to reveal the splendor of what they have uncovered.    Thanks to Jeff Miller for calling this to my attention

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Oct 10 On the set with Opus Continuum at Oh-Dark-Thirty (cont. from Oct 2, two items above).
"This morning we were down there at 6 in the morning at the Rotonda Diaz beach to wait for dawn," said Selene. "Had to get that early morning light. Then we went over to Virgil's tomb. It was great!"
"You mean...!?"
"Precisely," she said --
"Where the dawn comes up like thunder" out of the Somma-Vesuvius Archaeological Park 'cross the Bay!" (Selene reads too much.)

As the top photo by Fulvio De Marinis shows, they made it. Cast, crew, and director, Salvatore Polizzi (shown, photo, below right, second from left) continued their work on In the Footsteps of Parthenope for the upcoming IMMAGINARIA 2019 art exhibit.
(The second photo, right, is by Ferdinando Russo. You'll never guess what Selene is doing.) Her preview of this is called In the Footsteps of Parthenope, part 2. An English version of it, plus additional photography of yesterday's shenanigans, are (or will soon be) on the Opus Continuum Facebook page here. (You don't need to be on Facebook to view it. Just hit the above link.)

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Oct 15 They don't really say, "It's a wrap!" It's more like "OK, I think we're finished." Whatever, Selene has told me that the group went off and around and up and down the dark corners of Naples for the last day of shooting their film (mentioned directly above). She cited Matilde Serao: "...some will tell you that the tomb of the lovely Parthenope is on the height of San Giovanni Maggiore, where at the time, the sea washed up to the foot of the hill. Another will say that Parthenope's tomb is at the Sant'Aniello height or farther out, below Capodimonte. Well, I can tell you that none of that is true... Parthenope, the virgin, the woman, did not die. She has no tomb. She is immortal..."

Selene adds. "What we found out ... well, we'll let you know in March!" which, of course is when IMMAGINARIA 2019 takes place. In the meantime, just as the Opus Continuum Facebook link in the section above takes you to part 2 of preview of the film plus more than a dozen great photos, this link here will take you to Part 3 of her preview plus a gallery of photos of the final day of shooting.

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Gravitational Collapse of Mt. Etna's Southeastern Flank

Oct 16 That's pretty scary. Good thing it wasn't a headline, just the unnerving title of an article in the on-line journal, Science Advances. But it's never too early to start worrying, so start worrying about Etna, Sicily's giant of whom D.H. Lawrence wrote...

"...that wicked witch, resting her thick white snow under heaven, and slowly, slowly rolling her orange-coloured smoke. They called her the Pillar of Heaven, the Greeks." (more here)

The southeastern flank of the Etna volcano slides into the Ionian Sea at rates of about 2-3 centimeters per year. Volcanic flanks can slide for various reasons. For our non-technical purposes, they can be described as either being driven by (1) the movement of magma (including genuine eruptions) or (2) the force of gravity. In number one, you might get flank collapse from unbalanced weight distribution of a volcano and horizontal “pushing” due to magma movement. That happens on the submarine slopes of the great Hawaiian volcanoes. That appears not be the case with Etna. Researchers studied movement for a 15-month period in 2017-18. most of the time, nothing happened. But during an 8-day period in May 2017, Etna’s southeastern flank moved 4 centimeters to the east...studies reveal "a greater hazard for flank collapse than previously assumed as deep-seated gravitational sliding (emphasis added) can potentially lead to catastrophic collapse." The catastrophe, of course, is not the slump in the undersea slope. It's the ensuing tsunami. That has happened at various sites around the world.

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coastal flooding
ultural Sites (and everything else) in Mediterranean at Risk from Rising Waters
If it's any consolation -- and it shouldn't be--
this building in Venice was built like this.

Oct 18 A number of science journals have warned of the dangers posed to UNESCO World Heritage sites from rising sea waters due to global warming. There are some significant bits of European culture at risk in low-lying areas in Mediterranean coastal areas. The one that draws the most attention is Venice, currently at work to build a series of gates to temporarily isolate the famous lagoon from the Adriatic Sea during high tides. Such engineering is difficult and costly but it can be done. (Recall the mammoth Delta project in the Netherlands to hold back the North Sea.) Other less prominent sites in the Mediterranean are the medieval city of Rhodes in Greece and the Kasbah of Algiers in Algeria. Besides Venice, there are a number of places in Italy that are threatened, if not by waves overwhelming buildings (you may have to wait for that killer asteroid, but be patient!), then at least by very destructive coastal erosion. This will affect general areas that have nothing to do with cultural monuments.

According to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), about 4500 km2 (c. 1740 mi2) of Italian coastal areas and plains may be at risk of coastal flooding by 2080. This includes: in northern Italy, the Upper Adriatic Sea; in central Italy, the coastline between Ancona and Pescara and the coasts near Rome and Naples; in southern Italy the Gulf of Manfredonia (the 'spur' of the 'boot') and, farther south, the coasts between Taranto and Brindisi. A sea level rise of 0.20-0.70 meters (c. 8 - 27 inches) has been projected for 2100. Besides damage to physical production facilities and residential areas, other concerns are loss of humid zones near river estuaries; and salt water intrusion into coastal fresh-water beds, with adverse effects on agriculture and freshwater supply. An additional report by the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea is even starker. It says the areas with high risk of flooding cover an area of 7.774 km2 (c. 3000 mi2) -- that is 2.6% of the national territory. The problem is exacerbated in Italy by subsidence (the ground is sinking) due to human activities, such as excessive groundwater withdrawal. That is, by the way, a particular problem in Naples. The Vomero and Posillipo hillside have been disastrously overbuilt since the end of WW2, producing other disasters such as cave-ins. But one disaster at a time here.  (Related entry here.)

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