Yesterday, Italy beat England in soccer (football) to win the European Championship.
When Italy won, the cheer in Rome was apparently so great that it showed up on seismographs that measure earthquakes.
Which reminded me of one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. It was at the funeral of Pope John Paul II. At the very end, when the pall bearers were carrying his coffin back into the Basilica, the turned a 180 for a moment, as if saying a final good bye. A shout went up from the piazza and nearby streets, jammed with people and coordinated with huge video screens. That shout rolled out over the City and echoed back. It was probably the single loudest purely human sound in the history of Rome.
Which reminded me of one of the poems of Horace (+ 8 BC). In Ode 1.20, Horace celebrates the day that his patron and a close ally of Augustus returned to public life after an illness. When Maecenas entered the Theater of Pompeii (exactly in my old neighborhood which I hope to see again in October), a great shout went up from the crowds which echoed off the Vatican Hill (taller then). It’s about drinking Horace’s humble homemade wine at his country villa, the legendary Sabine Farm, with Maecenas, who could afford the expensive vintages, Falernian, Caecuban, Formian.
Vile potabis modicis Sabinum
cantharis, Graeca quod ego ipse testa
conditum levi, datus in theatro
cum tibi plausus,
care Maecenas eques, ut paterni
fluminis ripae simul et iocosa
redderet laudes tibi Vaticani
Caecubum et prelo domitam Caleno
tu bibes uvam: mea nec Falernae
temperant vites neque Formiani
Come, drink with me — cheap Sabine, to be
sure, and out of common tankards, yet wine
that I with my own hand put up and sealed in
a Grecian jar, on the day,
dear Knight Maecenas, when such applause was
paid thee in the Theatre that with one accord
the banks of thy native stream and the sportive
echo of Mount Vatican returned thy praises.
Then thou shalt drink Caecuban and the juice
of grapes crushed by Cales’ presses; my cups
are flavoured neither with the product of
Falernum’s vines nor of the Formian hills.
Maecenas was the immensely wealthy patron of culture, philanthropist, and benefactor to poet’s like Horace during Augustus Caesar’s reign.
And, by the way, today 12 July rather than the real day tomorrow, the birth of Augustus’ adoptive father, Gaius Julius Caesar was celebrated in Rome so that it would not interfere with a festival of some pagan deity or other, perhaps Apollo.
That Falernian was from the Ager Falernus in Campania some 30 miles north of Naples at Mt. Massico. An enterprising fellow did some research to see if he could make wine worthy of the name right there. He came up with Falerno del Massico. If you want something sort of like it get a good Aglianico. But remember that ancient Romans drank their wine cut with water. There was different word for uncut wine: merum – used by St. Thomas Aquinas in his great Sequence about the Eucharist and also flung by Cicero (which means “chickpea”) in his Philippics into the teeth of another, at least temporary ally of Octavian Augustus, Marcus Antonius. Because of Cicero’s savage attacks Mark Antony eventually had Cicero beheaded and his hands cut off, which were subsequently nailed to the doors of the Senate. According to Dio Cassius, Antony’s wife Fulvia (immortalized in the worst way by Martial, another beneficiary of Maecenas, who quotes Augustus’ own soldierly, even martial, epigram about her – absolutely not for the fragile), pulled Cicero’s tongue out and stabbed it over and over with a pen/stylus because of his invective. She had once been married to Public Clodius Pulcher, after all. And you know how that went!
Horace was the poet who gave us the phrase “carpe diem… seize the day” (… not to mention “nunc est bibendum“). An expression whose sentiment is found in the famous Student Song, Gaudeamus igitur. Not to be confused with the Gaudeamus introit.
One of the verses celebrates the patria and also benefactors of the students.
Vivat et respublica,
Et qui illam regit,
Vivat nostra civitas,
Quae nos hic protegit.
Long live the republic as well
And he who rules it!
Long live our city,
the charity of benefactors
Which protects us here!
Note that here “benefactors” are called “Maecenases”.
I feel like singing this verse when a donation comes in from you my benefactors who send monthly or ad hoc, or when something comes from my wishlist, or the Vemno bell chings. You are my protectors. It is my duty and pleasure to pray for you.
And did you know that the Michelin Man’s name is “Bibendum”? As in “It’s time to drink some merum! Falernian!)
Lest you tire of more of this….