Posts Tagged 'Rome'

A Nation of Immense Size and Diversity

Recently I’ve been writing about how the Romans didn’t think democracy was a workable form of government for their nation. For one thing, they didn’t think their non-patrician countrymen were up to it. Another reason they thought it to be impractical was because of the size and diversity of its population. In his book Roman History, second century Roman historian Dio Cassius recorded the words of Gaius Maecenas, a close associate and advisor to Augustus Caesar:

“The cause [of democracy being impractical] is the immense size of our population and the magnitude of the issues at stake. Our population embraces every variety of mankind in terms both of race and character; hence both their tempers and their desires are infinitely diverse, and these evils have gone so far that they can only be controlled with great difficulty.” [from Life in Ancient Rome by Don Nardo]

Like Rome, America also has an immense population (ours is 313 million compared to Rome’s 88 million at the time of its greatest expansion under Emperor Trajan) and our diversity has long been cause for marveling. Not because it was a good thing in itself so much as that so many people of infinitely diverse backgrounds could come together and live in peace as one nation.

E Pluribus Unum

From many, One

Our first, de facto national motto, and one of the keys to America’s success as a nation. Our early ideals were never about being “diverse” so much as about being free. About being a part of a new sort of government that guaranteed the freedom and equality of all men before the law. The credo from times past was that people came to America to be American, not to remain whatever they were before. They left the old country because the old country wasn’t working for them — was stifling them, starving them, abusing them, enslaving, even killing them. They came to embrace American ideals of freedom and the right to pursue happiness as they saw fit, to learn English, to work their way out of poverty into prosperity  — to become a part of this great nation, not a part in it.

Cultural trappings were brought into the great melting pot and assimilated, not singled out for special regard and treatment. Our Christmas traditions in particular are an amalgam of the customs of many different nationalities.  And if you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine too. This assimilation and amalgamation is what allowed us to survive,  what allowed our representative democratic republic to work. In other nations or regions where different tribes or cultures or ethnicities insisted on maintaining their separate “identities,” there has been continual warfare.

Unfortunately, more and more we’re beginning to see that sort of identity politics developing here: people who come to this country for the prosperity, but have no interest in acquiring a new language or new ways. Instead, clinging to their old tongue and culture, they create enclaves within the whole, gathering together with their fellows and, in so doing, insulating themselves from American culture. They don’t want to join it, to learn its language, to work side by side with its people and become one of them, they just want to get the goods — to keep their old ways and allegiances as they send what they get back home to the old, dysfunctional country.

And there are some Americans who are fine with that. Who even celebrate it.

Which is just one more reason why as a nation we are growing more and more fracture-lines by the day…

Advertisements

Over My Head

I’m reading a book about Rome (Life in Ancient Rome by Don Nardo) and have come across a number of interesting pieces of information, one of which is that during the Roman Republic, which began around 500 BC, they had a Senate comprised exculsively of men belonging to the Roman aristocracy. These men, who held their positions for life, controlled the finances, foreign policy and dictated how the provinces would be run. Here’s the part that struck me:

The traditional power of the oligarchic Senate was what kept Rome from evolving into a true democracy. This is not surprising, considering that the senators were part of the ancient and venerable patrician elite. They doubted the intelligence, abilities and moral capacity of the common people, whom they often referred to as “the mob.”

On this subject he quotes Cicero, who held that while a little democracy might be good, “too much was dangerous.”  Cicero believed that it would be unfair to grant authority to both society’s highest and lowest members because “the highest were by nature superior…and therefore deserved to rule, while the lowest would be incapable of ruling well even if given the chance.”

And it just reminded me of the political ruling class in this country. The idea that governing has allegedly become so complex and sophisticated that only a small minority has the intellect and capability of figuring it all out. If you haven’t gone to Harvard or Yale you are clearly hopeless.  (Unless you have, but you are a Republican with the last name of Bush…)

In any case, I can see why they think that with some of their strange ideas about the economy — for example, going into more debt is a great way of getting rid of one’s debts.  That is definitely a complex and sophisticated idea — so much so that to me, a common person, without an ivy league education, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Just like inflicting increasing gun control laws on our law-abiding citizenry, while freely allowing some 2000 guns to “fall into” the hands of Mexican criminals. I’m afraid I am too stupid to figure out how that was a good idea, either.

Nor how we can have “affordable” healthcare for all without it costing  any of us any more in taxes. And why are we lectured on the need for all of us sharing the sacrifice when our leader and his wife can’t even share the same plane?

I’m confused.

But then, I’m not a member of the ruling class intelligensia, so that must be why. It’s all just over my head.

The Silver Pigs

I found this book through a recommendation in Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins): “The Falco novels by Lindsey Davis give an entertaining and well-researched look into life in the Roman world in the early empire.”

Since I was drowning in the technicalities presented in the Handbook — specifically I was struggling to understand Roman naming practices — I thought these might be just the deliverance I needed.

I found the first of Davis’s Falco novels, The Silver Pigs, at our library and just finished it last night. I really enjoyed it. Her objective in writing these books was to take the modern-day detective story and translate it into ancient Roman times. Except that her detective, Marcus Didius Falco,  has a family, and doesn’t find a new love to leave with every story. Or so says the introduction.

I enjoyed Falco, his family, and the setting. Falco even did a stint as a slave in a lead/silver mine in Britain. And there is a bit of a romance in it, as well. Quite entertaining.  And not only did reading it spark several ideas for Sky and get me out of the mental mud I was stuck in, but it pointed me to further resources when I investigated author Lindsey Davis’s website: A Falco companion filled with info on how she did her research and dealt with author problems in coming up with her various stories, which I immediately purchased from Amazon along with the next book in the series.

Anyway, I’m not going to do a summary — you can find that on Amazon here and here — nor much of a review — you can find many on Amazon as well. But what I thought was especially cool and want to talk about here is the triumphal march of Vespasian and Titus. As it happens, the first Falco story takes place in 70 AD which is the year that Titus destroyed Jerusalem. I’d already done a bit of reading on that subject for Sky, so the fact the story is set in the same time frame was an extra plus. I don’t think Davis is a Christian; I seem to recall reading she is an atheist, but I’m not certain.

In any case, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she put a description of the procession into the book, toward the end, and I thought immediately of our Lord, who led His own triumphal procession after the Cross, “when He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, [and] made a public display of them (fallen angels), having triumphed over them through [the Cross].” (Col 2:15)

Paul was referring here to the Roman practice of the triumphal procession, something I doubt any of us have seen, but Davis’s description really made it take on shape and substance for me. It runs for several pages, and to try to reduce it to a paragraph or two completely guts the impact.  Not wanting to commit copyright infringement I’ll have to recommend you find the book itself to read the full description

One of the things I was surprised to learn from her portrayal was that the Emperor had the role of Chief Priest, another parallel to our Lord who is our High Priest. Then there was the Crown of Jupiter which was held over the Emperor’s head as he rode in his chariot  — the crown of a god, which no mortal man can wear. And our Lord being the God-Man, but crowned as a man, king of the Jews, Lord and Head and Husband of the Church. And she even had the slave whispering sic transit gloria mundi — “the glory of the world passes away.” I first learned about that slave from Colonel Thieme years ago, so it was a kick to see him presented here.

As an interesting side note, I noticed in a timeline in my Handbook that not long after this procession, which occurred 71 AD — a year after Jerusalem’s fall — Rome was hit with both plague and fire. I do not think that is coincidental. Nor the fact that 10 years after Titus, under Vespasian’s command, destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem, another fire in Rome destroyed Vespasian’s newly completed temple to Jupitor.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Marcus Didius Falco and his world. Perhaps the next book will even reference the above mentioned plague and fire…


Categories

My Online Church

Visit my Old Blog Here:

Music I’m Writing To

Transformers (Revenge of the Fallen) Soundtrack - Steve Jablonsky

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: