Tuesday, October 02, 2019
I’ve thought lots about Nancy Pelosi’s comment that, “The times have found us.” It makes sense as I think back over what I know about human social history. This morning, it made more sense. In the wee small hours and sleepless, I began reading a book that for awhile has been at the top of my reading list, entitled, S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard (2015).
What drew me to this book is a whole story itself, so I’ll cut directly to the chase and explain what about the story of Rome isn’t new or surprising. Actually, it’s fascinating in light of what we’re trying grasp, the nonstop changes occurring in the world’s current societies and in political leadership.
Instead of reaching way back into antiquity and explaining the slow growth of the Roman nation, Beard examines Rome beginning in the year 63 BCE, or about 600 years after the city’s founding. She writes that by 63 BCE, Rome had a million inhabitants. It was a dirty, sloppy city, most residents were very poor, living in filth (sanitation didn’t exist), and paying high rents to a few wealthy residents. The minority who were wealthy owned most of Rome’s properties. They personally lived in relative splendor owning large homes and slaves.
Beard details the social perspectives and political differences between Marcus Tullius Cicero and and Lucius Sergius Catilina. Both men were wealthy, but Catilina had come from a family with more money than Cicero who was self-made. Catilina matured with a passion to liberate Rome’s poor and give them more rights and opportunities. Cicero had become a member of the Senate (the city’s most wealthy and influential men); he was a fabulous orator able to communicate his passion effectively. Catilina lost most of his personal wealth over years because of his combative nature and conflicts to prove his points. The two men fought through conflicts both oratory and physical. Cicero’s ability to communicate won the day, and Rome’s social status quo remaining unchanged.
This 2000-year-old story reads like a modern crime novel. It’s full of courtroom skills and each side’s passions. The winner had the oratory skills to convince a majority of decision makers. While reading, I couldn’t help considering our own 2016 election, the unusual claims, behaviors, and finally, vision-shaking results. Much of what happened then, and is happening since isn’t new. Looking back into human social history can help us conjure up shapes for the future.
Dear Readers: Social dynamics through history teach us that, “then is now”. Diana