Why did the Romans stop using aqueducts?
"We should soon have the same problems as the Romans in the 5th century"
DIE WELT: What makes a collapsing empire like the Roman so attractive to you as a novelist and producer of the latest King Arthur film?
Valerio Massimo Manfredi: It's a very topical issue. We should soon have the same problems as the Romans then. The west is threatened. And there are the same reactions. In those times the Christians were the opponents of war, the pacifists. They said: Let the barbarians come, it's God's will, he's sending them to us. We can convey the message of Christ to them. The result was 13 centuries of catastrophes, famine, plague and other diseases, wars. To get back to the standard of living of the Roman Empire, we had to wait until the end of the 17th century. Even today it is not certain whether our western system, our culture, will survive.
DIE WELT: What makes the decline today? September 11th?
Manfredi: Not a single event. It's worse when everything gradually collapses. 2000 years ago there were 300,000 kilometers of paved roads in Europe, many thousands of kilometers of water pipes, fleets with countless sailors in the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans, universities, hospitals - all of this was slowly being lost. In the Roman Empire there were many thousands of libraries with millions of books. In the Middle Ages, on the other hand, the largest library in Europe boasted 370 volumes in the St. Gallen Monastery.
DIE WELT: The largest book collection at that time was in Timbuktu with 400,000 volumes.
Manfredi: If one world collapses, the flame of civilization will move elsewhere. Western civilization has basically never really recovered from the fall of the Roman Empire. Many tried to make Charlemagne, Charles V, Napoleon ...
THE WORLD: President Bush ...
Manfredi: Let's leave that aside. Let's talk about the EU: a miracle for me. Nations that have fought for centuries are uniting. Only the united Europe reached the level of the Roman Empire again. Even the Turks want to be a part of it, Egypt.
DIE WELT: Should your book admonish us to be more defensive? Or was the era with its heroes simply more dramaturgically more appropriate?
Manfredi: It's not that simple: the fall of the Roman Empire as a suitable set for a beautiful adventure story. It's a fascinating time as the old world is collapsing: despair, breakdown, desolation. A background that is easy to reflect and meditate against. It could all happen again. It was possible to attack the heart of the only superpower, one of the planes could have hit the White House, killing the US President. But it's not just repeating history. The barbarians back then were poor, but didn't want to destroy the empire, they wanted to become part of it. They lived in the cold, near swamps. In the Roman Empire, on the other hand, they saw the most luxurious villas, wonderful gardens with fountains, aqueducts, public baths, libraries, theaters, monuments - everything. The difference literally drew the barbarian peoples inward. As inevitable as the wind blows from a cold air zone into the warm.
DIE WELT: You say that something new always grows out of such decline. What could it be this time?
Manfredi: You can't say that beforehand.
DIE WELT: So it was the time of characters like King Arthur. What does the figure Arthur stand for today? For the fighter against culture? For the archetype of the knight?
Manfredi: We have to distinguish history from myth. King Arthur is a historical figure. We don't know exactly how the legends about him came about. We know that there was the man among a group of devotees who dreamed of a world of peace and spirituality, love and valor. They sat around a round table, which is why Arthur was only primus inter pares. That was a Roman principle.
DIE WELT: From which the egalitarian round table is derived today, at which there can be no pre-seated person.
Manfredi: Exactly. And the search for the ideals of this group is materialized in the search for the Grail.
DIE WELT: Is the story believable if the first writing was not written until four centuries later, and everything that came before was only passed down orally?
Manfredi: It's like the war for Troy, which Homer only recorded centuries later. Nevertheless, traces were found underground afterwards. And we can trace the original tradition from Homer from where he obtained his knowledge of Troy. If you only have fragments of a story about a battle, the description of the weapons, the clothing, the food will tell you what the truth is, when the battle took place. Excalibur, the sword, is such a case in the Arthurian legend. It is arguably an element of Celtic culture mixed with Roman.
DIE WELT: Could the Arthurian legend one day be archaeologically confirmed?
Manfredi: That would be great, but it's unlikely. It's been so long, there are so many versions, so many places.
DIE WELT: How closely do you see the Arthurian legend interwoven with the search for the Grail?
Manfredi: The Grail also has so many facets in history and conveys so many interpretations. As with Atlantis. We know full well that a continent in the middle of the Atlantic never existed. Still, we can't just say the story is entirely made up. It is a kind of mosaic, a collage of many different elements. It should be the same with the Grail. The word apparently comes from the Latin "gradalis", which means something like chalice. Others see behind it the "sangrial", the holy blood. What would stand for the descent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There are Celtic versions, Roman, Christian, those of druids ... Hitler also sent his sniffer dogs to look for the Grail in a castle in the Pyrenees.
DIE WELT: And here it is a stone, there a fountain of youth, a chalice.
Manfredi: If we include all of that, it is more likely the symbol of an ideal.
DIE WELT: Some time after Wolfram von Eschenbach's "Parzival" the story of the Grail became surprisingly quiet - until Richard Wagner dug it up again in 1877. Why at that time?
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