Tuesday, October 4, 2011

When In Rome.....

Above all, could she produce sufficient men of insight and goodwill who would persuade both the governing class and people to face squarely the pressing problems of the day and to seek solutions for the common good even when this might involve some sacrifice of individual gain by leaders and common man alike? If statesmen failed to grapple with urgent political, economic and social problems, and if sections of the community selfishly set their own interests before the well-being of the whole ......, then stresses and tensions might overstrain the stability of the body politic and (her) days ..... would be numbered.
I suppose if a book has had 5 editions, has been in print continuously since 1959 in both the UK and the USofA, and has been reprinted just about every year since 1986 (sometimes twice in the same year) one might assume before getting any further than the copyright page that the information contained therein will be trustworthy.

I'm learning about the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire this semester.  My first class is tomorrow at 9am, right across from the Poetry Center at the UofA. The room is comfortable, the acoustics are perfect and my classmates are always a delight.  We begin and end on time, and there's always a just long enough break somewhere around the middle of the morning.  It behooves me to keep up with the reading, even if non-fiction is not my strong suit and remembering names and dates and places often gives me a migraine.

But the book was unopened although it proudly sports a USED sticker on its spine. The pages are bright white and of an almost-but-not-quite heavy stock.  It was intimidating and enticing all at the same time.  Coupled with my obligation to do my homework, I took H. H. Scullard out to the backyard and settled in, with the sun to my back, for 38 pages of .... not what I expected at all.

Here's the first sentence:
Carthage and Corinth, two great cities of the ancient world, crashed to their ruin amid smoke and flame in 146 B.C., destroyed and sacked by Roman troops.
I love every bit of it, I really do.  It starts out alphabetically alliterative, which appeals to my sense of order.  Then, just as a reader might worry that he is behind already, being unaware of Carthinth and Cortage, H. H. Scullard tells him what and when they were.  Deep breath and then the image and the sounds and the temperature of that one particular year are brought into specific relief as you feel the walls crumpling and the treasures looted.

I got more comfortable after I'd read it a few times and cruised on through the rest of the first paragraph when I came to the epigram of this post.  And as I parsed that sentence I found that I didn't have to go very far to understand its import.  It's happening right now.

I worry that we are not producing leaders who can inspire both their ilk and their constituents, Scullard's governing class and people.  I worry that we, like Rome, will find that we have failed to grapple with urgent political, economic and social problems having allowed sections of the community selfishly (to) set their own interests before the well-being of the whole .

I don't worry that stresses and tensions might overstrain the stability of the body politic because old people may vote, but young people make revolutions.  Today's old people populate the Tea Party and are stridently trying to overstrain the stability of the body politic, hoping, it seems to me, that government will implode and they will be left, happily, to their own devices.  But the demonstrators on Wall Street are still trying to carve out a message, although they are managing the nuts and bolts of daily life quite nicely.  We may not have raised revolutionaries, but they sure can organize a meal plan.  I'm not worried that our days ... would be numbered, because I refuse to believe that that could happen here.

And then I read the notes.

Note #1 out of 110 pages of numbered notes, the very first one that I read, provided the backstory to the argument made in that first paragraph.  Not all scholars agree with H. H., and their points of view were presented, with references.  I was reading along, agreeing or disagreeing but basically sticking with Scullard and that's when E.S. Gruen is mentioned as one who provides a valuable survey.  My brain paid a little bit more attention; my author thinks this one is worth something.

So, when I got to Gruen's assertion that the Roman civil war was not anticipated by contemporaries until it was almost upon them; the breakdown was relatively sudden rather than gradual I did begin to worry.

In fact, right now, I'm kinda sorta afraid.

1 comment:

Talk back to me! Word Verification is gone!