Diaries Magazine

Muses, Hellenization & a Very British Weekend

Posted on the 11 November 2011 by Lucymiller321 @lucymiller321
So, after a week’s sojourn, back to ol’ Socrates and his Roman bust and its unearthing in Piazza Venezia. 
To be honest, the Museo Nazionale Romano feels like a long time ago. But I will recreate the potted history lesson it gave me as well (and as briefly) as I can.
Because of the abundance of art, philosophy, literature, etc, in Ancient Greece because of its place as a center of learning, an absorption of the Hellenic culture began to manifest itself in Rome in the second century BC. The ‘Hellenization’ came about because of increased contact between the Greece and Rome, for trade initially, and means essentially that a lot of the sculptures that I find today at the Nazionale Romano appear much more traditionally ‘Greek’ than Italian.
Interesting facts on Muses: of Zeus’ nine Muse daughters (Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania, Melpomene), Melpomene is the Muse of Tragedy and the protector of arts and sciences. The word ‘museum’, named after Melpomene, comes from ‘muse’. Greek poet Sappho was named by Plato as ‘the tenth Muse’. And of course, ‘muse’ has passed into our lexicon now as a thing that artists derive their inspiration from – the Pre-Raphaelites’ Lizzie Siddal and Andy Warhol’s Edie Sedgwick are the first that spring to my mind, and then there is of course the band Muse, and the epitome of all muses, Marilyn Monroe, whose status as an art object probably outshines that of her as an actress.
My mind is constantly blown by how much our society relies on ancient Roman and Hellenic culture, usually without us even thinking about it.
The politics of the ‘cult of personality’ (my extremely vague A-level political history is forced to come into play here, hello again Lenin) was prefigured by that pervert Caligula, miniature statues of whom once existed in their droves. There is one at the museo here. In contrast, few statues of Emperor Nero remain – most were destroyed after his death as a result of his damnatio memoriae, which to be quite honest doesn’t even need translating.
Considering that the lovely bloke once burnt 200+ Christians in order to provide light for his evening meal, I’m not entirely surprised that his statues were irrevocably smashed up.
The next statue I come across is of Aphrodite (Roman Venus; I was unaware until recently that they were one and the same) bending to bathe. It is not the Greek original but in fact one of numerous Roman copies, a manifestation right in front of me of the Hellenization of art in the Roman Empire. This particular statue has a fairly mind-blowing history – it was unearthed in the bathing house of Emperor Hadrian (he of the Wall fame).
Behind Aphrodite is her son Eros, God of love, winged, as a young boy. Both statues are depictions of the supposed Greek ‘ideal’. A large number of statues were discovered at Hadrian’s villa, near Tivoli. Villa Adriana was apparently decorated ‘intellectually, yet with Romantic taste. Aside from the Aphrodite, a bust of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, was also found.
Other important statues at the museo include two of Apollo, one of which was found in the Tiber, a potential Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, and Discobolo –a discus thrower, unearthed in the seventeenth century. Discobolo and his ilk were extremely popular with Roman nobles, who evidently enjoyed decorating their gyms with statues of young boys in loin cloths, lunging.
Another interesting fact: the statue of Dioniso that I find upstairs was discovered in 1928 on Appian Way in Rome, and was taken to Germany where it was used for propaganda by the Nazis in 1944. It dates from between 117 and 138 AD, and was only returned to Italy in 1991.
On the top floor my ocular senses are attacked by a recreation of the villa owned by Livia Druscilla, wife of Emperor Augustus. A huge mosaic has survived and it is mounted across the walls of one room here, in a reconstruction designed to represent the outdoors – it is a garden scene, with trees, birds and flowers in abundance, and I read that it was discovered underground and was probably used as an ‘indoor garden’ when the heat of the Italian summer got too unbearable. The colours are still vivid and everything is in high bloom, offering, like with the statues, an ideal rather than realism. It is incredible how much of it has survived.  ***
On Friday evening, I am letting Bea jump all over me (literally, from the sofa, while I only half pretend to cower on the floor) when Alberto tells me that they never played like this with their old au pair and that they must therefore like me. I am heartened by this.
On Saturday I am free in the afternoon, which I luxuriously waste (I can’t even remember what I did; it probably heavily involved Facebook and the Guardian App) and then Lidia and B&B go to a friend’s for dinner and I attend Alberto’s football party, where I have a very interesting conversation with about India, the dangers of sharks, and the British education system (yes, diverse topics) with a man named Luca, father of B&B’s friends Polite Martina and Nintendo-Addicted Lucio.
Once again, the fact that I can drink two glasses of wine AND an entire bottle of beer and not be on the floor leaves them astounded.
Sunday, out of nowhere, is unbelievably, beautifully, unexpectedly British.
This is what happens. We go to buy a washing machine. Such an English way to spend a Sunday morning! I entertain the kids with video game shopping and Disney books whilst Lidia and Alberto head off upstairs and purchase white goods like so many British parents do at the weekend. We could almost be in Ikea. While I am sat outside later, unpeeling oranges for the twins and waiting for Lidia to bring the car round, it starts to rain. We go to a McDonalds on the edge of a main road (just like Leeds Road McDonalds!) and sit outside under cover whilst the rain plummets down.
A  November weekend of washing machine shopping and McDonalds. I FEEL LIKE I’M HOME. It is amazing. I have never had a McChicken Sandwich and relished its greasy beauty so much. And then, because the gods clearly love me today, we go to a mall.
The twins climb into a trolley and Lidia wheels them off to the Disney Store. Freedom! Freedom in a mall, for the first time since before India! The first time I’ve properly shopped since AUGUST! Ahhh. I go to Hollister, which is not advisable on an au pair’s wage but hey ho, and beauty of beauties, my card works in Italy!
I rejoin the twins after my Hollister excursion, briefly, and we count seven elves, a reindeer and the numerous presents that are piled up outside Santa’s grotto. B&B are enamoured by the fake snow; Lidia later tells me that they never see it. Once, she says, it did snow in Rome. Once. She thought the roads would close and she wouldn’t be able to get home, so she was preparing to camp out at her mother’s. And then the snow stopped after twenty minutes.
Afterwards H&M steals away the last money in my purse, which I happily exchange for a light pink floaty shirt and a fur lined gilet. I am irrationally happy with my purchases, which mean I will no longer be gazed at worriedly by the Bellomos and the hotel staff when I step outside into the balmy Roman autumn wearing fewer layers than they deem suitable.  
On the way home, the lightening starts, and the rain gets increasingly torrential. Due to the homeliness of today, I feel like I should be in Lancaster or Almondbury (either will do) wrapped in a duvet, with a hot chocolate, writing shit poetry and sporadically napping. It is the only thing to do in this weather.  
Instead I spend the evening with slightly damp feet, drawing pictures with the twinnies. But I suppose today was homely enough, and we can’t have everything in life. Today, my cosy new hoodie and a cup of tea will happily suffice.

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