Doctor Jedi’s Blog
Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light.

Rome again, and some random musings

When we had finished our walking tour of ancient Rome, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Travestere.  Its the trans tiberian part of Rome. I mentioned it in my previous post on the Eternal City. Its the Rome where the Romans Roam. Haha. The tourist to native ratio is much smaller than the rest of the City.

As we were making our way down to the area, guided by a trusty map that our concierge had kindly given us, I found us walking along this large tract of grassy land. A few pillars/ruins dotted its vista but it was largely empty. I had plotted a route that would take us to Travestere via the Circus Maximus, but to my great disappointment, I could see no signs of that great monument any where. A monument that at the height of its glory could seat a quarter of a million people. More than a a quarter of romes population could be squeezed into this stadium. I was asking people around me for directions to this place, and yet as most of them were as clueless as I was.

We kept on walking and I struggled with the map looking at street names around me to try and figure out where the circus maximus was situated. It was with a sense of disappointment that I finally realised that the grassy tract that we were walking by was all that remained of the Circus Maximus. Apparently, given its proximity to the residential areas of Rome, its materials were the first ones that were used for the rebuilding of the city during the Renaissance.

This incident made me think of the DIKW heirarchy. For those not in the know, it stands for the  Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom hierarcy. It describes the way any information processing system builds up self awareness from the raw bits of information (data) it gleans from its surroundings.

The data was what the sense organs were supplying my brain, the information ( a grassy tract of land) was what I gleaned from the data given my previous experience looking at similar grassy pieces of land. The Knowledge (that it was actually the site of Circo Maximo) was derived by correlating the information from the map and that from my surroundings and the lack of any big imposing structure around that place. And the wisdom shall follow. It started there and then with the realisation that all things, no matter how imposing or wondrous shall eventually come to an end … nothing survives the ravages of time. It is continuing with introspection and hopefully will continue to grow as time goes by. Inspite of its epithet “the eternal city”, Rome actually can force you to confront your own mortality in a very effective way.

The sceptic in me tells me that one need not go to Rome to realise all this. Most of what we see around is perishable. And most human habitation especially in cities based close to rivers/oceans can be traced back to millenia. The difference again, I feel lies in the information/knowledge that we have about Roman History. Its all very well sitting in your home and imagining how that place must have been a thousand years ago, or will be a thousand years hence, but the easily available history regarding the Roman Kingdom/Republic and the Empire just hammer the task home more effectively. The ancient ruins provide a fitting backdrop such musings as well.

A visit to the Basilica of San Clemente illustrates this point further. ( I wrote about this in an earlier post as well). The ruins of what are thought to be an ancient Roman mint have been excavated underneath this structure( like visiting the vaults of Fort Knox  two thousand years in the future). The walls were caving in and the damp was everywhere ( One of the ancient roman aqueducts that used to supply the place had burst and flooded the place and the excavators had to drain a  lot of water away). The awe and wonder of the place was not in the data and the information that it was a damp old place, but the knowledge that it was what remained of an old and important structure.

While on the topic, let me re-iterate how much I have enjoyed reading “The decline and the fall of the roman empire”. I recently finished the chapters that chronicle the rise of Christianity during and after the reign of Constantine and his son Constantanus.Even more interesting was the chapter on Julian, the last Pagan Emperor of Rome. Educated at Athens while in exile ( he was constantines nephew and Constantanus had his entire family murdered after the death of Constantine to prevent any rival claimants to the throne, but Julian was spared as he was only a boy of 5 when this happened-so it was not only the Mughals who engaged in fratricide eh), he was the extinction burst in a way for the pagan, polytheistic religion that had preceded Christianity. But even this man was bought to his knees by a needless war with the Persian empire and died on the retreat from a disastrous battle leaving Rome in the hands of the Christians again. The book makes the point that while most of what Constantine built has perished, it his one act of supporting the Christian religion via the edict of Milan that still affects our lives today. While some say that his conversion was a decision based on faith and conviction, others say it was a purely pragmatic decision, in order to better control his subjects and empire.

Issac Asimov is supposed to have based his Foundation series of novels on the Decline and the Fall of the Roman Empire. He just substituted the setting of historical truth with a science fictional future.  Reading both these works of fiction provides the realisation that Religion is a tool used by the political elite to subjugate the wider masses. A truth evident in the theocracies of the Middle east and the continuous attempts of the religious right to subvert any liberal agenda anywhere in the world.

Apparently in the latter part of the book, Gibbon also describes the rise of Islam and the conquest of the eastern roman empire by the Arabs ( Istanbul is the modern name of Constantinople – the city founded by Constantine to be the new capital of the Roman Empire). I am well and truly looking foward to reading that part.

Its been some time since I blogged, but life keeps one busy. I had actually started this post a couple of weeks ago, but only got the time to finish it today.

“Such is life, so full of care, that we have no time to stand and stare eh.”

Wordsworth wrote this in the last century, and it still rings true.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Keep coming back my dear regular readers ( now up to 10, i am happy to report).



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