I always wondered what it would be like to be a Roman in the time of Caesar; to live during a time of such incredible disruption, coping with the loss of some massive and wonderful institutions and looking forward to a new kind of future, all in the proximity of a man who, by the end, believed himself a god.
Well, I think now I know. It’s a state of thinking, “oh my god oh my god I need to read a book and listen to some relaxing music because oh god I literally can’t even.”Or something to that effect. The shrill, continuous din of dire political news has gone from apocalyptically terrifying to merely irritating in the space of a year.
Incidentally I am currently reading Dictator by Robert Harris and it’s really extremely great, although all very close to the bone right now. The first two in the series were, for me, a rather beautiful wander through the final days of the Roman Republic. Cicero (narrated by his secretary, Tiro), being at the centre of all sorts of controversy, led me a rather gritty path, but still, it all felt like a dangerous holiday. Perhaps Dictator would feel like that too, if it weren’t for the fact that, as of 2017, the USA seems determined to relive the more idiotic failures of Rome.
I suspect not though. It’s an altogether more maudlin story, as you might imagine if you are aware of Cicero’s end (spoiler alert, the guy who has been dead for over 2000 years dies). There’s real threat in Caesar, and real uncertainty after his death. It’s all hit an un-nerving chord with me, considering, as I have said, America might be dealing with its own Dictator.
I wonder what stories will be being written about this time, 2000 years hence. Are we entering an age of marbled glory and god-like achievement? Are we looking downwards into our own decline? History suggests that both simultaneously is most probable.
I’m an optimist, however. The Romans never fell; they changed and dissipated. The essence of their civilisation pervades our own, as ours will pervade unrecognisable civilisations ahead of us in time. Those civilisations will not be called America or Britannia or The West, but they will know of us, and they will know much of what they owe us.