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When in Rome

John Galts posting below got me musing to myself about the last time I visited Rome.

I wandered about a bit on my tod, as is my wont, and when I found Trajans Column there was an elderly Australian couple there, asking a street vendor what it was about. This bloke didn’t understand them, or at least was pretending not to, and was trying to get rid of them. Jeeze, what a SOB. The chance that a Rome souvenir hawker didn’t speak at least simple English was somewhere between zilch and Buckley’s. I took this couple in hand and did my tour guide bit – explained who Trajan was, what the column was, how old it was, why it was erected, what the reliefs around it represented, and what had been done to it over the years (centuries?)(millennia?) since it was first constructed.

They thanked me profusely for my time, and then I thanked them for listening to me and, as I had never seen the column before, allowing me to make my first sight of it so pleasant. The look on their faces was priceless.


  1. john in cheshire says:

    I’ve just returned from a week in Rome, Pompeii, Naples and Florence. What a wonderful experience. And all the Italians we encountered were the best people I have ever met; I can’t praise the place enough. On top of that, it’s heartening to visit the centre of Western civilisation and inhale the magnificence of what Rome created. Now, where’s the equivalent muslim legacy? As someone said, they have a large rock in the desert and only muslims are supposed to be allowed to see it. Funny how the Vatican was swarming with muslims – I did wonder why, since if they ever get the chance, they’d destroy the place, together with every vestige of Roman civilisation.

  2. NickM says:

    The chances are the seller didn’t understand them. He’s most likely to know how to do his job in lots of European languages than be able to explain ancient history in English. For a start, you only need the present tense to sell something.

    JiC Err, the Mosque of Cordoba for a start?

  3. John Galt says:

    It depends whether you think buildings like the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of Cordoba are genuine examples of muslim architecture or merely derivatives of the pre-existing civilisations (Byzantine in the East, Mauritanian in North Africa / Iberia)

    The “Moors” themselves were a disparate group of cultures that populated the African edge of the mediterranean since ancient times and were part of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana long before they became muslims, but then there are plus-sides to Jahiliyyah. :-)

    I don’t actually see anything of substantive value that has arisen specifically through muslim architecture, art or science. This is because in its very nature the Qurʼan demands submission to the will of Allah and the word of the last prophet Mohammed. It is a recipe for stagnation writ large.

    This was also largely true of the Catholic church and explains why both the inquisition and the reformation took place. It was the combination of the renaissance and the protestant reformation which created modern western society.

    Even Sayyid Qutb, the founder of modern islamic fundamentalism acknowledged that any muslim state would have to segregate western technology from western cultural influences, otherwise they’d be living in the dark ages.

    The Muslim Brotherhood of which Qutb was a leading member up to his execution in 1966 is still tearing Egypt apart today attempting to create a muslim utopia out of strict adherence to Islam and western technology while denying its people the freedom that created the technology and is hard to disaccociate from it. Best of luck with that one boys. :-)

    I found it particularly ironic that the Arab Spring was coordinated against their own largely secular muslim dictators by the use of western technology which bypassed government controls.

  4. NickM says:

    Note: Previous comment wasn’t moi. My ,missus doesn’t release that this here laptop saves my comment details.

    I think it’s a hint more complicated.To quote Rutherford, “There’s physics and there’s stamp collecting”. It seems to me that up until roughly the C17th in Europe science was stamp collecting without any real attempt at universal system building. This applied much the same in Catholic Europe as the Islamosphere. You are right about the protestants and such shaking things up. But free inquiry in the physical sciences did flourish for quite some time in the Islamic World. Indeed – according to my Persian cookbook – it took several hundred years to wean Persians off the wine and onto the sherbet. Yes, the Qu’ran is pregnant with mysticism and tyranny. See Sura 61:120 (’an-sura-5-“the-table”-verses-61-120/) but these lags are perhaps an artefact of the extremely rapid spread of Islam after Muhammed’s death – it took some time for the iron sandal to come down. This can be seen to this day in the linguistic fact that classical (Qu’ranic) Arabic is essentially a dead language like Latin (though more open to interpretation) and “street Arabic” is very variable from place to place. Almost like a language family like the Nordic languages.

    Anyway consider this fellow This c. C12th when the shutters came down. The beast was born. around then and a great tension arose and grew between two fundamental views on the world. Essentially, is God/Allah bound by logic? Before roughly the C12th there was very little difference between Islamic and Christian “science” practically speaking. Both, for example, were heavily Aristotelian. It wasn’t so much the Al-Ghazali (et al)’s repudiation of the empirical method but their repudiation of the a priori. When I was 17 I was nearly killed on the road. I got away very light but was unconscious for a bit and utterly confused. I recited truth to myself to ground me. The truth was mathematics. I did algebra in my head because Allah’s hand is fettered. I could, in principle, be convinced that sex outside of marriage or making graven images or drinking wine or whatever is morally wrong but logic is different to good and no force on Earth or in the Heavens will convince me that 2+2=5. The belief they are the same is where much Islamic thinking ossified. It is a great tragedy (perhaps reflecting the trauma of the Crusades and the Mongol invasion) that the Islamic World suffered a self-inflicted step back to Qu’ranic “certainties” around the C12th.

  5. John Galt says:

    Yes, I think in principle we are in agreement. The iron fist of the pre-reformation Catholic church and the iron sandal of Islam essentially ends up in the same place as the fundamental nature of everything boils down to the predetermined dogma of “because Allah/God made it so”.

    This makes questioning about the fundamental nature of the universe very dangerous, especially where it conflicts with religious teachings or applied dogma, such as Aristotelian geocentricity which caused Galileo so much grief when attempting to change the churches view towards Copernican heliocentricity.

    I am sure that there have been equivalent actions by the muslim clerics over the centuries, but given the more autocratic and decentralised nature of Islam, this hasn’t been as publicised or as notorious as Galileo’s case.

  6. clh says:

    Sorry, but the Church was never the anti science body it is made out to be. Even the Galileo case wasn’t particularly anti science – that it was is mainly a beat up.

  7. John Galt says:

    That’s not the assertion I’m making, rather it is that certain aspects of fundamentals, the how and the why of things were predefined as within the realm of the divine or divine revelation and in those areas research was inherently in conflict with the church.

    Outside of these areas the church often actively participated, with priests leading the way in chemistry, botany and other sciences (“butterfly collecting” as Nick would have it).

  8. Mr Ed says:

    John G, indeed, Gregor Mendel was a Catholic monk. His study of genetics was revolutionary, sadly ignored in his lifetime.

    What is called science is either data collection.’taxonomy’, mechanism deduction ‘chemistry etc.’ or nutty mysticism – a lot of physics and some ‘evolutionary’ biology.

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