Under the wolf and twins!
Yesterday I went to Rome for a one-off gig: to give a speech (lectio magistralis, as it was called appropriately in Latin) on the subject of violence against women. It was in an event held in, and partly organised by, the Camera dei Deputati, the Italian lower house whose Presidente is the excellent Laura Boldrini, sitting next to me in the picture above. It is partly thanks to her, and other women active in the Italian government, that there has been such a lot of public focus in Italy on violence against women. I'm not saying that public focus is the whole solution; but unlike the UK, Italy has ratified the Istanbul Convention (on preventing violence against women) and the event at which I was speaking was the second annual convegno on the subject organised by the Camera dei Deputati and the Council of Europe.
The whole thing took place in the Palazzo Montecitorio, home of the Camera dei Deputati, and rather grander, as these things go than the Palace of Westminster -- though it didnt feel quite as much of a security bunker (there was all the appropriate scanning, but it had a rather lighter public face). And the room in which I gave my talk -- la Sala della Lupa -- was kitted out with a full size replica of the Wolf and Twins.
This was perfect for me. Because my talk was about the cultural inheritance of male violence in something I rather loosely called ( I only had 30 minutes!) the western cultural imagination, and I started with Romulus and the "Rape of the Sabines", which has become so much a title that we tend to forget that it was a pretty brutal act of .. well, rape. (Ancient Roman writers were actually rather better than most of us at remembering quite how awkwardly nasty this foundation story was.) It was fun to do this with baby Romulus just behind, even if only a nineteenth century (?) copy of Bernini's addition to the famous wolf.
I went on from there to later stories from the ancient world (including the Rape of Lucretia and the emperor Nero's kicking of his pregrant wife to death), right up to modern song lyrics (with "pride of place" going to what has become the Welsh rugby anthem, Tom Jones's Delilah -- about a man knifing his ex-partner to death, in case you'd missed it!).
I wasn't advocating banning this kind of stuff. I have no interest whatsoever in trying to create a politically correct version of the Rape of the Sabines (though a few Romans had a go), and censorship of this kind of stuff is never worth the trouble it takes, even if you did think it right (which I don't). What I was trying to argue is that we should be much more prepared to face up to this strand in our cultural inheritance, and not to euphemise rape as abduction or let Nero off the hook, as a lad who went too far after a good night out with the boys.
If you want a flavour of the occasion, there is a mixed English/Italian version of the morning here.