The Filth, Slaughter and Disease, That Was Rome

McCloskey’s “Great Fact” says that life was very bad for tens of thousands of years until the capitalist industrial revolution started to make it better. The tens of thousands of years can be thought of as a horizontal hockey stick handle, with the capitalist industrial revolution represented by a sharply ascending blade. Rome was a bump on the hockey stick handle, but as the last paragraph quoted below suggests, not too much of a bump.

(p. C4) . . . Ms. Beard is competent and charming company. In “SPQR” she pulls off the difficult feat of deliberating at length on the largest intellectual and moral issues her subject presents (liberty, beauty, citizenship, power) while maintaining an intimate tone.

“In some ways, to explore ancient Rome from the 21st century is rather like walking on a tightrope, a very careful balancing act,” she writes. “If you look down on one side, everything seems reassuringly familiar: there are conversations going on that we almost join, about the nature of freedom or the problems of sex; there are buildings and monuments we recognize and family life lived out in ways we understand, with all their troublesome adolescents; and there are jokes that we ‘get.'”
“On the other side, it seems completely alien territory. That means not just the slavery, the filth (there was hardly any such thing as refuse collection in ancient Rome), the human slaughter in the arena and the death from illnesses whose cure we now take for granted; but also the newborn babies thrown away on rubbish heaps, the child brides and the flamboyant eunuch priests.”

For the full review, see:
DWIGHT GARNER. “Early Rome: Its Warts and Wonders.” The New York Times (Weds., Nov. 18, 2015): C1 & C4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 17, 2015, and has the title “Review: In ‘SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome,’ Mary Beard Tackles Myths and More.”)

The book under review, is:
Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.

On the hockey stick, see:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. “McCloskey’s Great Fact; Review of: McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.” Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy 1, no. 2 (2012): 200-05.

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