Eliot explained to a footballer

lazio 1A ” proficient footballer” is a living oxymoron. I don’t know what’s wrong with football , but whoever is engaged in this discipline (my nephew for example), rarely displays any proficiency in school subjects. This is really, strange as the activities connected to other sports like swimming, athletics, volley etc. actually seem to enhance concentration, organization and commitment. Football works in another way. However, since a large number of footballers peoples my classes, I have to cope with the fact that football is their main, if not only, language. In particular, when it comes the time to deal with Eliot and themes such the sense of hopelessness, fragmentation and desolation of the present, lack of future and sense of loss of an entire generation, the contrast between my manly exuberant audience and these themes is really striking. So every time, I cannot help but wonder : have they developed the right sensibility to understand such issues? Running, sweating and vigorously fighting on football fields? Very unlikely. However, I won’t give in. So, let’s put aside books for a while, and let me produce the ultimate effort to make myself clear using; therefore, the universal language of ………football.

lazio 4I love football. I have always loved it, and  I have to thank my father for this. I also have to thank him for having transmitted to me the passion for a glorious team, which is not exactly the Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus or Real Madrid type, but rather the Leicester type (talking about recent miracles), that is, that kind of team that wins whenever the most improbable and exceptional star alignments happen and thus, being these events so rare, the actors of these deeds immediately walk the immortal path to glory and myth. My team is S.S. Lazio and it seems that the stars haven’t been able to find the right alignment for a while. Sixteen years to be precise; and after sixteen years of hopes, and shattered dreams, I am not exaggerating (well,only a little) if I say that Lazio supporters fully embody that sense of hopelessness, fragmentation, desolation of the present and lack of future that so characterized that post-war generation. This is not because we haven’t won much in recent years, but rather, because we have been deprived of our right to dream.  For all of us, in fact, it is now clear that the management of S.S.Lazio doesn’t want or can’t make any effort  to elevate the quality of our beloved team from the present state of mediocrity. Hence, no champions to worship ( we don’t even know the name of the next coach), no goals to achieve and fight for, no future. Thus, when you feel that you have been deprived of your right to hope, you cannot but look back to a past when everything was different: comforting, warm, happy. Not necessarily it has to coincide with the memory a glorious episode, but with the hope and craving for glory.

lazio2Modern football, at least here in Italy, has lost all its ritual. I still remember with great pleasure when my parents decided to replace the Sunday habit of going to church with that of going to the Olympic Stadium in Rome. After all it was still a matter of faith, only with the choice of a different liturgy, that is all. Sunday used to be the only day devoted to matches and all of them started at 3.00 p.m., all of them. When S.S: Lazio played away, we used to follow the team and that became the occasion for a Sunday outing and the visit of the hosting towns. Even my relatives, who were not much into football used to come, as it was the occasion of staying together. I still remember the loads of food we used to take with us, the smell of onion omelette sandwiches, laughter and even the escapes from unfriendly hosts. At 6:00 p.m. Italy halted, as it was the time see the match was given on tv, usually the most important one, so, everybody, even those who did not support those teams used to watch the match. It was a liturgy that had to be consumed to the end, all together.

lazio3Nowadays that sense of ritual and community is completely lost. Sunday is no longer the holy day of football. Football liturgy has been sacrified on the altar of the profit of the pay-per-views. Matches are played from Thursday to Monday and at any time of the day, working days and even lunch time. You can watch the match comfortably at home, of course, with few friends or in solitude, with the result that those cathedrals, which used to be the Italian stadiums are now emptied and left in desolate conditions. And those heroes who used to inflame the hearts of their followers fighting on those arenas, nowadays are only money makers in search of a good contract, wearing the mask of love and dedication, with few exceptions, of course.Therefore, Sunday has become for me the “cruellest” day of the week, “mixing memories” of a happy past and the “desire” for a change, and now as a “tuber” “dried” of any faith or hope, I  no longer follow my team and remain at home nourishing my heart with the little hope that one day a Mr Godot will show up and save me from the present state of desolation.

Dedicated to Gianluca and Marco, great fooballers and………..students. Wish you all the best.

“I Tiresias”

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The figure of Tiresias, the blind seer from Greek mythology, has always appealed a great variety of authors both ancient and modern. In particular T.S. Eliot gives him (according to his own notes) a key role in The Waste Land. The question for readers is this: what features of Tiresias are functional to Eliot’s masterpiece? Who is Tiresias?

ti7The myths about Tiresias are many. One of the most common refers that, one day walking on Mount Cyllene, he saw two copulating snakes and he killed the female because that scene bothered him, a male chauvinist choice, actually. The goddess Hera was not pleased, and she punished Tiresias by transforming him into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera. She married and had children and one of them, Manto, also possessed the gift of prophecy. She lived in this state for seven years trying all the pleasures that a woman could try, till once again she found herself facing the same scene of the snakes. Depending on the myth, it seems that this time the Tiresias cleverly resolved upon either leaving the snakes alone or trampling on them. Whatever her choice was, it worked, as Tiresias was allowed to regain his masculinity.

ti2One day Zeus and Hera found themselves divided by a dispute about who could have more pleasure in sex: a man or a woman. Failing to come to a conclusion, because Zeus claimed it was the woman, while Hera asserted that it was the man, the quarrelsome couple agreed to summon Tiresias, as he was very likely the only one that could resolve that argument, because of his transgender experience. Once in front of the gods, he said that sexual pleasure is composed of ten parts and “of ten parts a man enjoys one only” and  a woman nine. The goddess Hera was furious because Tiresias had revealed such a secret and instantly struck him blind. Zeus, who could do nothing to stop or reverse her curse, as Greek gods cannot change what others have decided, gave him the power to predict the future and the lifespan of seven lives as recompense. In other versions of the myth  Tiresias was blinded by Athena after he had seen her bathing naked. His mother, Chariclo, a nymph of Athena, begged Athena to undo her curse, but the goddess could not; instead, she cleaned his ears, giving him the ability to understand birdsong and the gift of divination.

ti3There are diverging myths on his death as well. During the attack of Epigoni against Thebes, Tiresias fled the city along with the Thebans and died after drinking water from the tainted spring Tilphussa, where he was struck by an arrow of Apollo. In another version the soothsayer and his daughter Manto were taken prisoner in Thebes and sent to Delphi, where they would have been consecrated to the god Apollo. Tiresias died of fatigue during the journey. The soul of Tiresias, after entering into Hades, retained the powers of divination, as narrated by Homer in the Odyssey.

ti5Going back to the initial question, therefore,Tiresias embodies exactly what Eliot was looking for: his having been both man and woman makes him a unifying figure in The Waste Land, thus linking the ancient and modern worlds and giving unity to that “heap of broken images” which is the present world. Furthemore Tiresias, in the desolation and despair of The Waste Land,  reactivates his ancient role – that of a prophet. In this mythological context, Eliot seems to indicate that the state of the waste land will not always be perpetual as long as Tiresias directs us.

 

 

 

The social wolf

lupo 1It’s nine o’clock of a foggy morning and just like every single day a crowd of desperate souls flows over London Bridge to reach their workplace. They keep on walking “up the hill and down King William Street ”  with their head bowed and their “eyes fixed before their feet as if they had neither past nor future. This famous section belongs to Eliot’s Waste Land, but today would Eliot really conceive the same scene to stress the meaninglessness and hopelessness of modern society? Would it still work? I guess he would need to think about something else and you know why? All these lost souls would hold a fancy smartphones in their hands as remedy to their loneliness and stare at the colorful screens in rapture rather than fix their toes.

lupo3Modern man is “social” and happy to be so, there is no more loneliness, since the web can provide you with a good bunch of friends, a community you can chat with, ready to help you mitigate your sorrows or dissolve your doubts. It is in this new modern dimension that  man seems to express better his natural tendency to associate with others. But is it really so?  Many philosophers have always been controversial about the “social” nature of man. Aristotle, for example, was one of those who was convinced that men associate with one another instinctively, it is in their DNA and they do it for two reasons: to satisfy the reproductive instinct which leads men and women to unite and  the self-preservation instinct, which causes master and slave to come together for their mutual benefit. For Aristotle the state is a natural society and the proof that nature intended man to lead a social life is his faculty of speech, which no other animal possesses. And nature does nothing in vain, does it?

lupo 4Aristotle seemed to have some good points about it, but Hobbes along with Rousseau and Locke refuted Aristotle’s thesis one by one, dismantling his optimistic view. Hobbes in particular held that societies were not a product of a primeval instinct, but rather an explosive mixture of mutual fear and need, which, if it weren’t disciplined by a strong authority, the State, it would lead to an uncontrollable series of abuses and violence. Man is  “homo, homini, lupus“, that is a dangerous animal, a wolf, who actually displays the following characteristics, which seems to be in antithesis with the idea of “homo socialis“:
1) he is competitive, that’s why he is dominated by feelings such envy, hatred which lead eventually to war;
2) man develops private interest and he is happy, when he compares himself to others in order to excel/prevail;
3) man, being endowed with reason, is inclined to criticize the behaviours and actions of others and in particular of those who rule, as he is convinced that they if he were in their shoes, he would do much better. Such a conduct leads to divisions and civil wars;
4) this final point is the one I love the most and made me ponder a lot. Aristotle’s observation upon man’s faculty of speech seemed incontrovertible, but Hobbes disintegrates it, pointing out that man is the only one in nature to use his communicative  faculty to lie.
Hence, the contract which is at the basis of any human society is not natural but artificial.

Therefore, I cannot help but wonder: is the web the place where men can perform their honest social instinct or that fertile land where they can become more esily wolves?

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Make the right wish

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Wish_List_(Magic_Lamp)If you could rub the Lamp of Aladdin and ask the genius to make one wish to come true, but only one, what would you choose? Love, success, fortune, health or what else? Are you sure you will be able to take the right decision with no regrets afterwards? I actually wouldn’t know what to pick, maybe health, however, I’m going to give you a couple of examples in literature to demonstrate that this is a question that has to be pondered carefully, before giving an answer, otherwise the consequences could be devastating.

cumaeSibyl of Cumae was a prophetess in service to Apollo and a renowned beauty. Apollo wished to take her as his lover and was ready to offer her anything she desired. Unfortunately she didn’t ponder on her answer and instinctively asked to defy death: she wanted to live forever. It was easy for Apollo to grant her wish, he was a powerful god after all, but still she refused to become his lover. Greek gods were usually of a revengeful kind, and Apollo’s revenge consisted in granting Sibyl’s wish anyway, as he knew that giving that answer she had doomed herself to misery. In fact the boon Sybil had chosen was one of a cruellest kind. She wouldn’t have died just like anybody else but she would have kept growing older and older and older.

imagesVC9Q2RUJShe lived for hundreds of years, each year becoming smaller and frailer. When Trimalchio speaks of her in the Satyricon, she is little more than a tourist attraction, tiny, ancient, confined:I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the boys said to her: “Sibyl, what do you want?” she answered: “I want to die.” This is the scene Eliot quotes at the beginning of the Waste Land. The Sybil had given the wrong answer. Immortality doesn’t actually mean eternal happiness because time keeps on reminding its presence painfully “wasting” our bodies. But, had she asked for eternal beauty?

imagesUR2ZX0G4The moment  Dorian Gray may see the picture that celebrates his remarkable beauty, suddenly realizes that his charm very soon will slip away. He will never be as attractive as the portrait which stands in front of him. That picture will keep on reminding his inevitable decay. There are no gods or devils here, but his intense wish of eternal beauty is granted, therefore magically Dorian will remain young while the portrait grows old and ugly in his place. Time won’t touch his features but it will still be able to “waste”  his soul. In fact the portrait, which stands for Dorian’s conscience, will record the consequences of a life of debauchery, and every sin or crime committed will result in the disfigurement of its form. Dorian won’t bear to look at the picture any longer and he will destroy it, thus killing his true self. Therefore neither eternal youth nor immortality are the key to happiness. Ergo, what could the right answer be?

Cards,tarots and horoscopes

fortune teller

I am not so much into horoscopes and such, but I have to admit that occasionally I succumb the impulse of reading one, even if my reason rebels to the foolishness of that impulse, suggesting that the whole world cannot be divided in twelve proto-types of people who share more or less the same character, destiny etc.. I know  that somebody would say: ” Ah,ah, what about the ascending sign?” Ok, let’s talk about it….or better, let’s not, because the question is : why do we try to sneak a glimpse at the future even if we profess ourselves agnostic in the field of divination? The answer is simple: we are weak, nobody excluded, and sometimes we need a word of hope, any word from anybody even a fortune-teller. In the Waste Land, Madame Sosostris, “a famous clairvoyant” , is defined by T.S.Eliot as “the wisest woman in Europe” .That adjective “wise“, referred to a fortune-teller, emphasizes the degree of  desperation of the post war generation who found an empty consolation only in the false certainties provided by an alleged seer “with a wicked pack of cards“, superseding in this function religion itself. It isn’t even clear whether this Madame Sosostris is actually a woman, since Eliot seems to have taken this name from a character of Aldous Huxley’s novel Chrome Yellow : “Sesostris, the Sorceress of Ecbatana,” who was actually a man dressed up as a woman, who played a fortune-telling gypsy at a fair. In this way Sosostris would have shown the same connotations of sexual ambiguity which foreshadow Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes, famous for clairvoyance and for being transformed into a woman for seven years. Madame Sosostris could also be a reference to Madame Blavatsky, a Russian-born scholar of esoteric who was so much in vogue at this time, that some people probably thought her “the wisest woman in Europe.” However,I wonder who we might consider wise or the wisest nowadays, because even if I try hard, I can’t find a Madame Sosostris anywhere.