The Edge of the Empire: A Journey to Britannia: From the Heart of Rome to Hadrian’s Wall
by Bronwen Riley
Sometime around 90 CE, a young slave girl by the name of Fortunata (“Lucky”) was sold in London by her owner, Albicianus. Originally from northern Gaul, guaranteed to be of good health and not liable to abscond, she was bought by one Vegetus for the hefty sum of six hundred …
by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, translated from the Latin by Elaine Fantham, Harry M. Hine, James Ker, and Gareth D. Williams
The contradictions in Seneca’s career troubled many ancient observers, just as they have troubled many later ones. Part of this is the question of how to reconcile Seneca’s intimate involvement in the brutal power politics of the Roman court with the high-minded philosophical ethics he professed.
There is one basic rule about the “Elgin Marble Controversy”: it is not straightforward (if it were, it would have been solved decades ago). There are bad arguments and woeful oversimplifications on both sides, and the whole question raises some of the biggest dilemmas of heritage and cultural property. It pits the desirable notion of the Universal Museum against the desirable aim of seeing a coherent ensemble of sculpture (whether or not united by the Erechtheus theme) put together again.
The real danger of the UK Independence Party in EU and local elections is not the party’s own policies, but the reaction it draws from politicians and supporters of the other parties. On the one hand, there is a tendency to brush its success aside, as merely a fairly insignificant protest vote. On the other hand, there is also a dangerous overreaction by the main political parties—and a drift toward an increasingly rigid policy on immigration, even if their heart is not really in it.
Roman elections were all a matter of personal connections, charisma, and favor, not of manifestos and paid-up party loyalty. No patron would have a houseful of clients if he only offered to help those whom he knew he really could. That’s a different claim from a modern political view that you promise anything you like to get elected. In fact, in other ways too, the twenty-first-century relationship between the political hopeful and his voters and “clients” is the mirror image of the ancient one. But the modern clients, in the shape of Super PACs and the like, call the political tune to an extent that most of the supporters of the ancient would-be consul could not.
I am one of a team that has been redesigning the Greek and Roman Galleries in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. We’ve finished—and a couple of weeks ago the new display opened to the public. This is nothing on the scale of the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of course. But, after the British Museum and the Ashmolean in Oxford (also recently “re-hung”), the Fitz has the best collection of classical antiquities in the UK—thanks to generous donations since the mid-nineteenth century from professors and alumni of the University.
What is a “classic”? Is it simply (as Frank Kermode, I think, once put it) an old book that we still read? Or is there something a bit more sinister to the whole idea? An old book you feel you ought to have read? Or is it more casually serendipitous: An old book you have rediscovered and want to share with the world? And what does a “classicist” (in the Greek-and-Latin sense of the word) have to contribute to the debate?