Mediterranean Passages

While preparing a course on ‘Mediterranean Heritage’ for the university, I cam across some truly inspiring quotes and passages written by historians, sociologists, thinkers, artists and writers; a great homage to our great sea, at once civilizing and corrupting. Here I share some paragraphs, along with some photos that I took of different Mediterranean landscapes:

“The mark of a living civilization is that it is capable of exporting itself, of spreading its culture to distant places. It is impossible to imagine a true civilization which does not exports its people, its ways of thinking and living.
A living civilization must be able not only to give but to receive and to borrow. Borrowing is more difficult than it seems: it is not every man who can borrow wisely, and put an adopted implement to as good use as its original master. One of the great borrowings of Mediterranean civilization was undoubtedly the printing press, which German master-printers introduced to Italy, Spain, Portugal and as far away as Goa.
But a great civilization can also be recognized by its refusal to borrow, by its resistance to certain alignments, by its resolute selection among the foreign influences offered to it and which would no doubt be forced upon it if they were not met by vigilance, or, more simply, by incompatibility of temper and attitude.”

Excerpts from ‘The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II’ by Fernand Braudel

“The sea that stand between the lands knows very well that the frontier is a place where the richest and the most complex personalities are gathered, precisely because the old worn-out litany of identity is absent, and one can experience diversity. Those who stand on the frontier know that there are many ways to speak, pray, eat, love and die, and surely once in their life have thought that each civilization has its own wisdom and dignity. The Mediterranean is a sea of this difficult but essential mutual recognition, of building the difficult harmony among people who, even though they cherish their own identity, are still capable of understanding that contact with others expands the spirit, that it does not represent danger but enrichment.”

From ‘The Mediterranean: A Sea against all Fundamentalisms’ by Franco Cassano

“The Mediterranean exists, therefore, wherever people respect others, wherever they greet each other, wherever they sit down for the pleasure of conversation and telling stories, wherever they eat and drink together, wherever they become friends and spend time together until late at night, wherever they waste time because this is the only way to gain time. The Mediterranean exists wherever people speculate that perfection can have several faces, that it can come from work, from angels, from fantasy, but also from the tactile pleasure of the possibility of coexistence, from the highest, indolent agreement with the world.”

From ‘The Mediterranean Planet’ by Franco Cassano

“Take people from the remotest corners of the world, sprinkle them along the Mediterranean coast, and before long, through the alchemy of the sixth continent, they will become Mediterranean to the bone. Like its very waters, the Mediterranean embodies a fluent and cerulean history of humanity. […] And the eastern littoral is where the Mediterranean is quintessentially Mediterranean.

This in not a literary flourish or poetry, but the truth. Other regions of the world might boast of a single civilization, if that; but the eastern Mediterranean and its surroundings can lay claim to the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Hittite, “Persian, Minoan, Ionian, and Greek civilizations…for civilization is such a phenomenon that its seeds cannot be sown by one or another people alone. Civilization, which is humanist, has never been the monopoly of one pure line of descent. It has always taken hold through the intermingling of diverse strains.”

From ‘The Voice of Anatolia’ by Halikarnas Balɪkçɪsɪ

“There is a Mediterranean sea, a basin linking different countries. Those whose voices boom in the singing cafes of Spain, who wander in the port of Genoa, along the docks in Marseilles, the strange, strong race that lives along our coasts, all belong to the same family. When you travel in Europe, and go down toward Italy or Provence, you breathe a sigh of relief as you rediscover these casually dressed men, this violent, colorful life we all know. Our Country is (…) a certain way of appreciating life which is shared by certain people, through which we can feel ourselves closer to someone from Genoa or Majorca than to someone from Normandy or Alsace. This is what the Mediterranean is – a certain smell or scent that we do not need to express: we all feel it through our skin.”

Excerpts from text of a lecture Albert Camus gave on Mediterranean culture at the Maison de la Culture in 1937

“The Mare Nostrum, located in the north of the south and the south of the north. In-between water, media-terrania, sea between two lands, united by the bonds of water that are generally gentler than the bonds of earth. “Our” sea, belonging to all those living on its shores, is not what it should be because it has not been what it should have been: an area of confluence, of harmony, of plies blue waters fertilized by the peace of olive trees. And , all too frequently it has not been the Mare Nostrum but rather the Mare Vostrum. The sea dominated by the powers at each historical moment.”

Excerpt from ‘What Future for the Mediterranean?’ by Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Former Director-General of UNESCO

“The Mediterranean stands there reminding us that between the fundamentalism of the land or the sea there is a balance of measure. There exists a form of life capable of reconciling freedom and protection, a civilization that knows the beauty of belonging, but also of leaving, a civilization accustomed to a multi-dimensional geometry, a civilization that is never puzzled by the complexity of life.”

From ‘The Multi-Dimensional Mediterranean’ by Franco Cassano

“The Mediterranean ‎has a colour like mackerel, in other words, changing — you don’t always know if it’s ‎green or purple — you don’t always know if it’s blue — because a second later, its ‎changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue.”

From ‘The Letters of Van Gogh’

“Happy is the man who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.
(…) Many are the joys of life. But to cleave that sea in the gentle autumnal season, murmuring the name of each islet, is to my mind the joy most apt to transport the heart of man into paradise. Nowhere else can one pass so easily and serenely from reality to dream.”

From ‘Zorba the Greek’ by Nikos Kazantzakis

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