DAMNATIO MEMORIAE AND THE ABJECT POLITICAL HATRED

In many cases visiting a museum involves observing deteriorated artistic work, without feasible restoration. The visitors usually observe the works and accuse their deterioration to passage of time, accidents, wars, abandonment, or any other understandable factor. It is difficult to understand that these works could have been mutilated, damaged, or burned by their own contemporaries in a climate of abject political hatred. This is something that has happened since the human being has historical consciousness; some actors created, and after their death, others destroyed their work. Museums do not usually explain that there are those who make history, and there are those who want to erase it. The dynamics of events, in most cases, responds to the same pattern;  an actor exercised power against aristocratic or bureaucratic powers. Post-mortem hatred towards those who could not be defeated in life writes many of the darkest passages in history, with the most intricate justifications. Even so, hatred to the dead actors is not an obsolete macabre legacy of the past; it is something very current today across the globe. In all power changes there are actors who need to erase the memory of their predecessors in the hope of being able to impose on the collective psyche the justifications for their new and convenient forms of government. Derogate laws, dynamite monuments, prohibit mentioning the names of those condemned to oblivion, and desecrate their graves…. The new powers cannot allow their predecessors to continue influencing the social mind after their death through their legislative or architectural legacy. Altering the perception of the past is compulsory for powers with future goals.

Portada - ‘Le Pape Formose et Étienne VII’, (“El papa Formoso y Esteban VII”), óleo de Jean-Paul Laurens, 1870. (Public Domain)
Cadaver Synod

The condemnation of oblivion, or the damage to memory, is a shadow that runs parallel to the history of power. One of the first examples of damnatio memoriae is found in ancient Egypt, and is applied to the memory of Akhenaton. The executor of the condemnation to oblivion was the pharaoh Horemheb , and he justifier the action in the dire results of the government of Akhenaton, who in his obsession to worship a new god, lost to the Hittites the Egyptian territories in Asia. For the Egyptians, the condemnation of oblivion also meant punishing the victim in the afterlife, since erasing their works in the first life must necessarily affect the other. The Romans legislated in detail how the damnatio memoriae had to be applied, in fact, the concept of condemnation to oblivion comes to our day in Latin, although not directly from classical sources but from the work of Christophor Schreiter, De Damnatione Memoriae, in 1689. The Roman exercise of the condemnation of oblivion followed the same patterns, such as the rescissio actorum, that forced to erase the historical records of the victim, destroy their temples, and mutilate their statues, or the nominis abolition, that prohibited their name from being mentioned, or even forbid his name from being inherited by his descendants. The Roman Senate legislated to detail how they should punish the memory of those emperors who somehow had not fulfilled the expectations of the members of the chamber. One of the most lugubrious examples of memory damage happened in the ninth century, with the Vatican conspiracies in Rome as a political framework; In January of the year 897 Pope Formoso was unearthed to be subjected to a public trial. The rotten corpse, after nine months buried, was dressed in papal robes, was seated on the throne, and accused of perjury and nepotism. Evidently the corpse could not defend itself and was condemned by all the accusations presented; He was buried again naked and without honors. This dismal episode known as the Cadaver Synod has not been the last example of post-mortem condemnation of memory. As previously commented, the condemnation and damage to memory is today more in force than ever, and as in the Ancient Rome, its use has been legislated and perfected.

 durruti sepelio
Burial of Buenaventura Durruti

The political hatred to the memory of predecessors has been the basis of many so-called revolutions; In the Republican Spain of the 1930s, the militiamen undertook a campaign of destruction and desecration of Catholic tombs and temples; Franco punished the memory of the militiamen with the disappearance of the mausoleum and the remains of the anarchists Durruti and Ascaso, who were in the cemetery of Montjuic in Barcelona. The Chinese communists in Mao's Cultural Revolution destroyed much of the legacy of imperial China. The hate post mortem to predecessor has left too bloody memories, with the top of abjection in the period of terror of the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot misrule. Nowadays the damnatio memoriae is present in all western countries, and in all ancient cultures. In the US, memory damage is taking place in all the historical facets of the country's foundation; by leaps and bounds history is being rewritten, and the perception of its historical events changing. The condemnation of memory is affecting all the historical figures of the Confederate wing. The controversies over the removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Charlotte, or the politician Jefferson Davis and General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee are a palpable example of the condemnation.

colon estatua retirada
Removal of Colon statue in Los Angeles

Under that abject political hatred the memories of Spain and the US share the condemnation; Christopher Columbus statues have been deposed from countless cities throughout the Americas, and at the same time Colon's memory has been altered, contaminated, and criminalized. More recently, in Spain, justice has approved the desecration of Franco's tomb, under the protection of a law that is openly called the "Law of Historical Memory." The law of historical memory is just a repetition of the Roman laws of the damnatio memoriae, brought to its maximum expression by means of media propaganda and the springs of the modern state. Due to all efforts done from many different geographical points, and from many institutional and factual powers, it is possible to have the certainty that the globe immersed in a global political game-changer. All the facts, religious beliefs, and historical myths that justified the existence of nation states are being demolished. It is clear that the new powers come with an agenda where the perception of nations' history must be restored by a new battery of beliefs. This suggests that if the perception of religious monuments, such as cathedrals, is not demystified, they are in danger of being destroyed.

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