Archive for January, 2002

Very rarely do men know how to be altogether wicked or altogether good

January 22nd, 2002

From Machiavelli’s Discourses, I.27:

When Pope Julius II went to Bologna in 1505 to expel from that state the house of Bentivogli, which had held the princiapte of the city for a hundred years, he also wished – as one who had taken an oath against all the tyrants who seized towns of the church – to remove Giovampagolo Baglioni, tyrant of Perugia. Having arrived near Perugia, with this intent and decision known to everyone, he did not wait to enter that city with his army, which was guarding him, but entered it unarmed, notwithstanding that Giovampagolo was inside with many troops that he had gathered for defense of himself. So, carried along by that fury with which he governed all things, he put hiimself with a single guard in the hands of his enemey, whom he then led away with him, leaving a governor in the city who would render justice for the church. The rashness of the pope and the cowardice of Giovampagolo were noted by the prudent men who were with the pope, and they were unable to guess whence it came that he did not to his perpetual fame, crush his enemy at a stroke and enrich himself with booty, since with the pope were all the cardinals with all their delights. Nor could one believe that he had abstained either through goodness or through conscience that held him back; for into the breast of a villainous man, who was taking his sister for himself, who had killed his cousins and nephews so as to reign, no pious respect could descend. But it was concluded that it arose from men’s not knowing how to be honorably wicked or perfectly good; and when malice has greatness in itself or is generous in some part, they do not know how to enter into it.

So Giovampagolo, who did not mind being incestuous and a public parricide, did not know how – or, to say it better, did not dare, when he had just the opportunity for it – to engage in an enterprise in which everyone would have admired his spirit and that would have left an eternal memory of himself as being the first who had demonstrated to the prelates how little is to be esteemed whoever lives and reigns as they do; and he would have done a thing whose greatness would have surpassed all infamy, every danger, that could have proceeded from it.

From the translation by Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov.

111 Today

January 22nd, 2002

Happy birthday, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), everybody’s favourite dead Sardinian militant. You are one hundred and eleven today!

Image of the Week, #6

January 22nd, 2002

Thanks to Heather for sending this my way.


January 21st, 2002

It’s the two hundred and ninth anniversary today of the execution of Louis XVI! Also the anniversary of the death of Lenin (1924), but everything rather pales into insignificance set beside a full-blown regicide.

Domus Aurea

January 21st, 2002

I was lucky enough to be in Rome at the weekend, and visited the “Domus Aurea”, Nero’s “Golden House”, which is carved out underneath the Caelian Hill. Suetonius has this marvellous description of what it was once like, from his life of Nero in The Twelve Caesars:

“His wastefulness showed most of all in the architectural projects. He built a palace, stretching from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which he called ‘The Passageway’; and when it burned down soon afterwards, rebuilt it under the new name of ‘The Golden House’. The following details will give some notion of its size and magnificence. A huge statue of himself, 120 feet high, stood in the entrace hall; and the pillared arcade ran for a whole mile. An enormous pool, more like a sea than a pool, was surrounded by buildings made to resemble cities, and by a landscape garden consisting of ploughed fields, vineyards, pastures and woodlands – where every variety of domestic and wild animals roamed about. Parts of the house were overlaid with gold and studded with precious stones and nacre. All the dining-rooms had ceilings of fretted ivory, the panels of which could slide back and let a rain of flowers, or of perfume from hidden sprinklers, shower upon his guests. The main dining-room was circular, and its roof revolved slowly, day and night, in time with the sky. Sea water, or sulphur water, was always on tap in the baths. When the palace had been decorated throughout in this lavish style, Nero dedicated it, and condescended to remark: ‘Good, now I can at last begin to live like a human being!’.”

It would be lovely, if implausible, to think that this was what Nero’s tutor Seneca was thinking of, when he issued his famous injunction at the end of his treatise De Ira (On Anger) that we should learn to “cultivate our humanity” (colamus humanitatem).

Image of the Week, #5

January 14th, 2002

OK. In the end, I couldn’t resist this photo, from the BBC, which shows the result of the notorious encounter between W. and the terrorist pretzel. Best joke so far is that it serves the teetotal W. right for attempting to eat pretzels without beer.

Nick wrote [17.1.2002]: Avidly following the weblog (as ever), I thought you’d enjoy this.


January 14th, 2002

The bobblog is flourishing again, after a lengthy gap, during which Bob went jobhunting, and a period of only intermittent posting in late December and the New Year. But he’s back on form now with a lot of good stuff — including yet more mockery of W. (this time for his failure to eat pretzels), and the text of an advert for a language course which asks “Wouldn’t you like to communicate with your Spanish speaking domestic help? … Learn specialized vocabulary, phrases expressions and the basics to give instructions in Spanish for house cleaning, food preparation, child care, yard and garden and errands”. And — better yet — he has a job to go to in the Sociology department of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. Well done, Bob (since I know he visits these columns from time to time): this is very good news indeed.

Bob wrote [14.1.2002]: Thanks for the plug in the blog…and for the nice words. You sure do know how to make a guy blush… ; ) I’m honored. I enjoy your blog as well, and I have to admit, I laughed out loud at your newest entry on GWB re: the pretzels and beer. Keep on bloggin’!