Happy birthday, James Joyce!

You’re one hundred and twenty today, on the second day of the second month of the second year of the new millennium, which makes this day also the eightieth anniversary of the publication of your Ulysses. A fine, fine anniversary.

Katy writes [3.2.2002]: I think he’d have enjoyed the almost palindromic date. Did you know he insisted on publishing Ulysses on his 40th birthday, hence the cackhanded and corrupt 1922 edition? And then, he was too flushed with success and booze to ever get round to correcting a second edition? Fine man.

Right-Wing Politicians Seek the Hobbit Vote

From Reuters (with thanks to Naunihal for passing this my way):

ROME (Reuters) – The rest of the world may see box office smash The Lord of the Rings as a mythical tale of hobbits and goblins but some young members of Italy’s far right hope to use the film to promote their political ideals.

“We want to use the event as an incredible volcano to help people understand our view of the world,” said Basilio Catanoso, youth wing leader of the far-right National Alliance party.

Right-wing thinkers and publishers, who introduced the Italian public to the fantasy classic in the 1970s, see the 1,000-page tome by Britain’s J.R.R. Tolkien as a celebration of their own values of physical strength, leadership and integrity.

The National Alliance youth wing is looking back to the 1970s when Italian rightists spun its own interpretation of Tolkien’s mythical world to bolster their image, already imbued with Celtic legends, knights and a cult of personal strength.

“There is a deep significance to this work. The Lord of the Rings is the battle between community and individuality,” Catanoso said.

But the tale can be seen supporting either end of the political spectrum. ”The destruction of the ring of power, the multiracial aspect — hobbits, elves, men and dwarfs united against evil are all leftist ideals,” said Francesco Alo’, editor of Italian film Web site www.caltanet.it.

Tolkien always denied any political intent in the book.

The story follows the struggle of a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins, played by Elijah Wood in the film, to destroy a ring of power which holds the key to the future of civilization.

The cult book evokes a fantasy world peopled by goblins, hobbits and elves.

“Only in Italy is The Lord of the Rings seen as right wing, no other country in the world has a similar reading of Tolkien,” said Valerio Evangelisti, an Italian fantasy writer.

In the 1970s, neo-fascist summer training centers nicknamed ”Hobbit Camps” were set up by the National Alliance’s predecessor, the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI).

The National Alliance split from the MSI in the mid-1990s. Its current leader, Gianfranco Fini, who is also deputy prime minister, has tried to give the party a new image.

The National Alliance has five ministers in the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But tradition still echoes in the party’s ranks.

National Alliance’s youth wing plans a campaign to boost membership, inviting students to “enter the fellowship,” an allusion to The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book of the Tolkien trilogy.

The film opened on Friday in 700 cinemas in Italy. So far it has grossed more than $500 million worldwide.

I’ll stop posting tonight soon, I promise.

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

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.

Domus Aurea

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).

James Joyce

From “The Dead”, in Dubliners:

It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

In memoriam James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, died this day, 1941.

Russian Opinion

Another news snippet. Not surprising, but interesting nevertheless.

MOSCOW, Jan. 6 (UPI) — The majority of Russians prefer the lives they had lived before the country’s stormy economic reforms were launched in 1991, a poll said Sunday.

The survey, conducted by ROMIR-Gallup International public opinion research group, queried 2,000 respondents throughout Russia on New Year’s Eve.

According to the poll results, 55.1 percent of those asked said they wished they could have their pre-reform living standard returned.

Only 32.6 percent said they preferred their present lives. The remaining respondents were undecided.

The package of social and economic reforms, evolving chiefly from the Russian government’s attempt to drop communist state planning and introduce a market economy, saw millions of Russians hit by poverty and unemployment.

The age group most affected are the pensioners, who the reforms have deprived of many of the Communist-era social benefits, forcing them to make ends meet on meager pensions.

The really scary figures, of course, are the life expectancy figures: Stephen Cohen reports in his excellent Failed Crusade that male life expectancy in Russia has fallen to 58, roughly where it was at the start of the last century.