ITALIAN NOTES & ANECDOTES
Battle tricks used by the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, included throwing bags filled with poison snakes into Roman war ships. This tended to distract them somewhat as they were attacked with throwing spears! Another trick was to use cattle during a night battle. Attaching flaming torches to their horns, he drove hundreds of cattle up one side of the battle ground (in the night they appeared to be a large attacking force.) Then, as the Romans moved to face them, Hannibal’s army attacked from the other side.
The term decimate comes from the Roman army’s way of disciplining gross misconduct or cowardice by any section of the army. Not wanting to lose the whole group, straws were drawn by all guilty members. Out of every ten straws one was be a short straw. The soldiers who drew the short straws were be killed by their fellow soldiers. (Hence “Decimate” — deci = 1/10 & mate = kill)
When in 56 BCE, Cleopatra took Caesar on a luxurious cruise down the Nile, they were looking at Pyramids that were already 2000 years old!
The legendary founders of Rome were said to be Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars, the god of war. In an hereditary disagreement, they were tossed into the river Tiber, but a flood tide carried them to a riverbank where a she-wolf found and raised them. Rome was built on the spot where they landed.
Slaves outnumbered free citizens in Rome and one slave revolt in particular, struck fear into the heart of the Romans. It was led in 73BCE by an ex-gladiator named “Spartacus.” This courageous man assembled an army of tens of thousands of run-away slaves for 2 years. He was finally defeated by Roman legions under Crassus and Pompey. Spartacus and thousands of his followers were crucified along the main roman road, the Appian Way. Their bodies were left hanging on their crosses, to be seen by any other slaves with similar ideas.
The way Romans lived — frozen in time. In CE 79 the seaside town of Pompeii was buried by 14 ft of volcanic material from an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Two thousand residents failed to escape thereby unwillingly leaving behind a valuable record of their everyday lives. Since the ruins were discovered in 1748, archeologists have slowly revealed rows of houses with streets still showing horses’ hoof marks, schoolboy scribbles and posters on the walls and a dog still tied to it’s customary place in the entrance hall of a house. By pouring plaster into cavities where the bodies had rotted, it was possible to get an almost perfect body impression, including facial agony expressions.
After Rome fell, the eastern Roman Empire, centered on Constantinople, developed into the Byzantine Empire. They used a system of division, using sixtieths. From them we got 60 seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour.
The Romans loved language and wrote down everything. Although Latin is no longer a living language, it’s roots are inseparable from the romance languages French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. Perhaps half of all English words and abbreviations are of Latin origin. Here are just a few that never changed: alma mater, per capita, vice versa, a.m., p.m., RIP, QED, IE (id est, that is), ETC (et cetera, and so forth), EG (exempli gratia, for example), appendix, dictator, major, legion, censor, administrator, orator, forum, gladiator, atrium.
Leonardo da Vinci was an inventor, but did not make scale models of his ideas. However, in the French town of Amboise, where he died, at the Chateau of Close-Luce, an innovative IBM group has now made 40 working machines, produced from his drawings.
Leonardo’s Great Horse was never completed. Almost 400 years later an American did it for him. In 1977, Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, read an article about the Great Horse in the National Geographic magazine. He started fund raising to build the giant statue, and although he died in 1994, the $6 million task was completed in September 1999, and presented to the City of Milan. A second casting stands in Grand Rapids Michigan.
Michelangelo’s David – When it was first placed, the Chief magistrate, Pier Soderini, thought that the nose was too large. Michelangelo scooped up some marble dust in one hand and a file in the other. “I’ll fix it” he said, climbing the ladder. Then he pretended to file the nose, letting the dust slip through his fingers “That’s much better” called Soderini, while the artist smiled to himself.
St. Peter’s in Rome, once the largest Christian church in the world, is no longer the biggest. It was surpassed by a replica of it, made in the African country of Ivory Coast, in the city of Yamoussoukro, and called “Our lady of peace.” Completed in 1989, it can hold 18,000 worshippers inside.
Our banking system was pioneered by Italians, who moved a bench (Banco) out into the marketplace to transact money matters.
In 1911 the Mona Lisa became the subject of the biggest art robbery in history, when it was stolen by a certain Vincenzo Perugio, who had previously worked at the Louvre Museum. An Argentinean con man that had put him up to it, then had a skilled forger make 6 copies, which he sold secretly for, what would now be, about $10 million each. After two years Perugio naively offered the original for sale and was caught. The painting was undamaged.