Monday, October 31, 2005

What the Romans did for us--and keep on doing

Spurred by the latest spate of TV miniseries and feature films, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard looks in the mirror of ancient Rome and describes the different images that it reflects back to us.

This game of defining ourselves against the habits of the "Other" is a very old one indeed. The Romans did it against the Greeks (a load of over-perfumed intellectuals), the Greeks against the Persians (effeminate despots). We are now finding it much safer to look to the remote past--the recent past is, of course, another matter--for our anti-types. For that past cannot answer back, has no government machinery on its side (or not usually), and you can do what you like with it. If they were portraying a modern religion, the lurid, blood-soaked representations of Roman paganism in the new Rome would probably end with the director up before the beak on a charge of "incitement to religious hatred". As it is, it's only Rome, so it doesn't count.

(Tip of the classic Roman straw hat to Archaeoblog). Tag:


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