Great Caesar's Ghost: Dery on Rome's Cemetery of the Capuchins


21 Responses to “Great Caesar's Ghost: Dery on Rome's Cemetery of the Capuchins”

  1. Ugly Canuck says:

    Capuchin monks, yes…

  2. Ugly Canuck says:

    Sorry, here’s a link for my above comment:

    Please remember: the pagan barbarians conquered the Western, Christian, Roman Empire. The Eastern, Christian, Roman Empire fell first to the Venetians, and then to the Turks…

  3. Crispinus211 says:

    The crypt is not difficult to find at all. Any good guidebook (i.e. the Blue Guide, even the DK Visual Guide) will pinpoint it for you. As for requesting donations, that’s a long-established practice. And as for no photos? It’s a sacred space, after all.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Did anyone else practice the speed-reading tips on this post?

  5. M. Dery says:

    @2: I yield to your knowledge of the Cave canon. And no, haven’t been to Peter the Great’s kunstkammer, though I’ve dreamed of doing so ever since reading Stephen Jay Gould’s fascinating description of it in FINDERS, KEEPERS, a book well worth running to ground.
    @3: Yes, the church is maddeningly difficult to track down, especially in Rome’s July heat, which is infernal.
    @4: Sartre! How interesting.
    @11: You’re earning your handle, Ugly Canuck. First, the “godless” reference was from an implied Christian perspective; in the popular mind, “Caesar” conjures Nero, Caligula, and other pagan imperators. Enable irony filter.
    As for proving you wrong, done: Nero killed his mother and adoptive brother.

    * Main Entry: par·ri·cide
    * Pronunciation: \ˈpa-rə-ˌsīd\
    * Function: noun
    * Date: 1554

    1 [Latin parricida killer of a close relative, from parri- (perhaps akin to Greek pēos kinsman by marriage) + -cida -cide] : one that murders his or her father, mother, or a close relative.

    And, finally, @9:

    TDAWWG, you are, without doubt, the most lungingly aggressive factchecker, spellchecker, and knee-capper I’ve ever had. It’s a compliment, I suppose, in some perverse sense, although it’s hard to feel the love. I can’t tell if you’re giving me a hot-stone massage or a full-body cavity search. Let’s remember that even though my posts are ginormous, by Boing Boing standards, they’re not doctoral dissertations. There will always be a stone unturned, an idea undertheorized, an arguable point not unshakably sandbagged with all the requisite citations. I profit most from your critiques when they engage genuinely with the ideas, less so when they read as if you’re simply trying to catch me with my op cits untucked.

    Now, to the meat of the matter:

    Yes, “carnivals actually reinforced established hierarchies through symbolically subverting them.” That’s why Marcuse coined the phrase “repressive desublimation,” a phrase you will likely never hear again in these quarters. Bakhtin is my co-pilot, so I’m well-familiar with the “release valve for the anxieties of the society” argument. But even a symbolic gesture can scandalize, and sometimes briefly destabilize in a more than merely cathartic manner, and it might even, on rare occasion, catalyze more genuinely political action.

    “I’d be a lot more comfortable with you unpacking the terms, giving a critical-textual genealogy, etc., than your simply using them to tell whether you deem a given Poe story Gothic or Grotesque.”

    I have to be telegrammatic, man. For the love of Mike, these posts are some of the biggest, shaggiest things bb has ever run, and you want MORE? I was trying to make a complicated point as pithily as possible and, god help me, with a little wit.

    “And can’t something be either?” Yes. I. Was. Painting. In. Bold. Strokes.

    I will now lie down with a cold compress on my forehead, and expire quietly.

  6. Roach says:

    I thought it was wonderful, and not at all horrifying. The most fascinating thing was how they made patterns out of repetitions of the same bones, a kind of geometric art of death.

    Also, I think Nick Cave has used the grotesque to great effect in numerous songs, O’Malley’s Bar being the most prominent.

    Dery – have you ever been to Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg? Seems like the perfect place for your current topic.

  7. cosmicautumn says:

    I visited the crypt this May. Did anyone else find it almost impossible to find, or did I just have a horrible map and couldn’t find the right people to ask directions? Anyway, this is a much more eloquent description than I could write. Although one of my strongest memories of it was the ominous organ music that was playing from a CD somewhere. The place certainly wasn’t lacking in atmosphere.

  8. Sardonique says:

    Speaking of the deleterious effects of the Grand Tour for European Gentlemen, there is always the sad and poignant tale of the British Artist Richard Dadd (also called ‘Mad Dadd’).


  9. Bemopolis says:

    I just read, coincidentally enough, Jean-Paul Sartre’s impressions of the same cemetery after a tour (in 1957, iirc) in the most recent Harper’s Monthly. To quote the Boingo, dem bones, dem bones, if they could only talk…

  10. Roach says:

    That Gould book sounds interesting. Does it have the picture of the Swami fetus in the Kunstkamera section? Although maybe the best part of the museum is how serious (and seemingly uninterested) all the Russians were when I was there.

  11. pho queen says:

    awesome! looks sooo metal!

  12. Necro says:

    Cosmic – yeah, it was hard to find. Three of us took a bit of time in finding it – it’s very well hidden off to the side of the large church it’s under. It doesn’t help the roads get a bit wonky right near it.

    And while it was impressive, I was a bit put back by the lady very strongly ‘requesting’ donations and the merch pushing at the door. And the fact that someone almost got beaten down by one of the little old ladies from the gift shop for having his camera out.

  13. Anonymous says:

    i have some video of this place if you FF and go to time 18minutes or 18:43 in the video, i just remember the creepy music if you listen good, i had no idea where i was, i was high and my friend said i have somewhere to show you….

  14. Ugly Canuck says:

    Parricidal emperors?
    Name ‘em….IIRC, Rome had eight hundred years with only a few parricides at all: and I don’t recall hearing or reading of any emperor killing his own father.
    But a father in ancient Rome did have the power,at least in theory under the Law) of life & death over their children (and unwanted children were simply left exposed in the Markets…) – but that too (ie father kills son) only happened once, or twice, in the eight-hundred year history of the Western Empire.
    Indeed, military commanders also had an unquestioned power of life and death over their soldiers, too.
    “Parricidal Emperors” seems a slander.
    Prove me wrong…

  15. Anonymous says:

    That was one of my favorite places to go in Roma, and it was definitely the best way to spend ‘un mille’ (now 50 eurocents or so). It’s right by the P.zza Barberini metro, so I’d usually take a group of unsuspecting friends up to it and say, “Oh, let’s just pop into this church for a minute.”

  16. Tdawwg says:

    The Grotesque, by contrast, is deeply subversive—carnivalesque, in the Bakhtinian sense. It mocks our insistence on lives that have purpose and a cosmos that makes sense, knocking received truths and established hierarchies ass over teakettle.

    Er, kind of. But carnivals actually reinforced established hierarchies through symbolically subverting them, like that Roman holiday where the masters fed the servants for a day. The carnivalesque is a release valve for the anxieties of the society at large: the inversions, world-turned-upside-down, etc., are only temporary, ludic, phantasmagoric, desired–carnival and the carnivalesque model these subversions symbolically, but generally not actually. Everything goes “back to normal” after the party’s over.

    I also don’t really follow your Gothic-Grotesque scorecarding at all. I’d be a lot more comfortable with you unpacking the terms, giving a critical-textual genealogy, etc., than your simply using them to tell whether you deem a given Poe story Gothic or Grotesque. And can’t something be either? There aren’t any Gothic elements in “Amontillado”? Nothing Grotesque in “Tell-Tale Heart”? (What, a body buried under floorboards isn’t Grotesque? Really? How’s that?)

  17. Ugly Canuck says:

    The Goths conquered the Romans, ne’est-ce pas?

  18. Ugly Canuck says:

    Nor were the Caesars “godless”. After Constantine, even the Christians would not use such an epiphet.

  19. Ultan says:

    Re: #9 While the Roman Emperors weren’t father-killers, they weren’t often pedophiles either. (Thanks to M. Dery for expanding my vocabulary with an expanded meaning of “parricide”, though.) I have only poked around looking for the depraved bits in Gibbon, but even Petronius (Nero’s party organizer) didn’t endorse pedophilia so much as show it ambivalently in one scene in his Satyricon. Justinian (6th century Byzantine emperor) was probably the first to outlaw keeping catamites, but that was mostly a ploy to seize estates according to Procopius. Pedophilia is mentioned very rarely before the late 19th century, although today’s expansion of the term to post-pubescents covers a great deal that the ancients would not have considered immoral or unusual.

  20. Anonymous says:

    When I took a tour of Rome, our (Sicilian) guide swore that the coffee term “cappuccino” actually came from these monks’ practice of tonsure: removing the hair from the top of their heads, leaving a white patch of skin surrounded by a dark ring of hair, which resembles the appearance of a cup of cappuccino.

  21. M. Dery says:

    @17: Point taken that our definition of pedophilia stretches it to include much that wouldn’t have raised an ancient Roman eyebrow. That said, I presumed my reader knew that I was writing from, and for, the 21st-century American PoV. As for the pedophilia—or, rather, “pedophilia”—of the Caesars, you obviously know more about their appetites, under the sheets, than I do, but Tiberius, at least, earns the slur. Suetonius may be an unreliable narrator, but my understanding is that there’s a least a germ of truth in the following passage:
    “He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe. For example, he trained little boys (whom he termed tiddlers) to crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles; and unweaned babies he would put to his organ as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction. 2 Left a painting of Parrhasius’s depicting Atalanta pleasuring Meleager with her lips on condition that if the theme displeased him he was to have a million sesterces instead, he chose to keep it and actually hung it in his bedroom. The story is also told that once at a sacrifice, attracted by the acolyte’s beauty, he lost control of himself and, hardly waiting for the ceremony to end, rushed him off and debauched him and his brother, the flute-player, too; and subsequently, when they complained of the assault, he had their legs broken.”*.html#43
    One presumes, somehow, that the acolyte and his flautist brother were tiddlers, too, or hardly older than that. But that may be base libel on my part.

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