My new book: the opening rounds
You will be pleased (or maybe not) to know that I have started on the new book; I should have been doing it since October, but in the end the final stages of Laughter and a new Part II course meant that nothing much got started till January 1.
This one is a rather hubristic enterprise, as it is a history of ancient Rome from "Romulus" to the third century CE/AD (working title is SPQR). I never imagined that I would ever take on such as project. But if you can't do it when you're 59, when can you? (Earlier one wouldnt know enough, later one might be on the downward spiral.)
Anyway, I am now on the part of the process that is (more or less) unadulerated fun.
That is to say, I'm reading some of those bits of ancient and modern literature that I have always meant to read but never quite did -- or more often book I have used, raided and dipped into, but never read from cover to cover. It's almost always such an eye-opener.
Last week I read (what is left of) Velleius Paterculus' History. Sure, I had raided this before many a time. For example, this is where the great anecdote about Mummius the destroyer of Corinth -- and well known philistine -- comes from. When he was having the priceless antiques from the city loaded onto boats, he told the hauliers that if they dropped any precious object they would have to replace it with a new one (an inappropriate application of the new for old principle -- which doesnt really apply to antiques). Even reading this in its wider context made it clear that Velleius wasn't quite so down on Mummius as most people who quote the story assume. In a sense, for Velleius, he was showing a properly unfussy attitude to "luxury".
But more generally, I had always fallen into the trap of thinking that Velleius was a, not very smart, lackey of the emperor Tiberius, and so not on the top of my list of reading. Wrong in two ways: if he were a not very smart lackey of a Roman emperor writing a history, he would be well worth reading for that very reason; but actually reading him from start to finish, you find he isn't that dim at all (plently of really interesting stuff about the relationship between Greece and Rome, and the thread about Italy and the relationship between Rome and the rest of the pensinsula is -- and many have long realised -- a real corker).
But some modern books have been getting the same treatment: a full, cover to cover read, when they have previously only been consulted for specific things. The winner this week on that score has been Emma Dench's Romulus' Asylum, which looks at some of the many ways Roman "identity" was defined and experienced. The title references the foundation of Rome when Romulus is supposed to have attracted citizens to his proto Rome by opening an asylum, and inviting in runaways, criminals etc (or on other versions "political refugees").
As I started from the beginning, it warmed my heart straightaway because Dench turns out to dislike as much as I do the term Romanitas, which has become something of a fashionable term for referring to Roman cultural identity... though not attested to be used till Tertullian, so far as I know, and really given its biggest boost by Mussolini. But it was also great in discussing the ambivalences of Roman citizenship, its changing shape and its links with all kind of other defining cultural aspects, like dress, appearance and language.
I wish I had read it properly before -- paperback it please OUP!
It did, however, lead to some needless expediture. After finishing it, I thought I really MUST read Sherwin-White's Roman Citizenship (2nd edition, 1973 -- though the link seems to claim the 2nd ed was 1992; not really?), It is the rather dry compendium of the basic data of citizenly privilege,but it would get into my head exactly who had Ius Connubii, what the history of the "Latin right" was. So I found a cheap copy on Abebooks and guardedly looked forward (?) to reading it.
Then, of course, I went into my college office... and what was there on the shelf? Large as life, a copy of the 2nd edition of Sherwin White. I've obviously been here before . . . the truth is that the book didnt actually look much read though.