Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Roman Record (1997)

     Paul Dowswell & Karen Tomlins. The Roman Record (1997) Roman history done in tabloid form. Very funny. The layout mirrors The Mirror, the writing echoes the screamier tabs, the authors rely on allusions to modern knowledge for sly irony, but the facts are there. A quick read, but it does prompt thinking. Here are a few of my thoughts.
     The  Romans loved their entertainment, became bored with the standard fare, and demanded an ever more intense frisson. They got it, eventually. The main difference between them and us was slavery (the owner had life and death power over his property), and the casual brutality of everyday life and politics.
     They were practical, focussing on making life more convenient and comfortable. They decorated their home with sculpture and painting. Upperclass homes included a private garden. Family and friends mattered most. Religion was (as it always is) a matter of cults and superstitions. They didn’t have mass media, but news spread fast via daily gossip in the baths and the the Forum.
     The apparatus of empire eventually became too much for them. Taxes rose, political infighting became more brutal and petty. One’s place in the machinery of government became more important than the purpose of government. The Romans did not develop the two most essential aspects of governance: a cadre of bureaucrats to operate the system, and kept it stable; and regulated transition at the top to prevent civil strife. By ca 500 AD, Rome was easy prey for the barbarians at the gate.
     The cover alludes to the destruction of Pompeii: Senator Livius Impluvius claims that the volcano will not erupt. He’s spent loads of money consulting with soothsayers, who all tell him that Pompeii will become “one of the most famous towns of ancient times.” Which in fact happened.
    Well worth the $9.40 it cost me. Jon would have loved it. ***

No comments: