Plugging the holes in a spotty education.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Roman Holiday

Shame-Faced Admission™: I've never read anything about the Roman Emperors.

I’ve encountered them, of course. I watched I, Claudius back in the 70’s but I don’t remember much of it - bare sets and nasty things happening off screen. I saw a production of Julius Caesar at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1978. The only thing I remember about that is seeing Richard Dreyfus in a toga. (Yes, it was as unforgettable as you imagine.)

But there I was in Borders a few weeks ago and they were having a special on Penguin Classics. Among the three I bought (for the price of two) was Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars. The translation is by Robert Graves, who apparently used quite a bit of Suetonius’ material for I, Claudius. The Twelve Caesars takes you from Julius Caesar through Domitian in easy to read form. And it was very easy reading. I don’t know why I’m always so cowed by the ancient texts. They’re usually full of bloodshed and sex, just like my regular reading.

I thought perhaps I’d learn some business lessons from reading this book. I’m always on the lookout for management tips. If Star Trek and the Sopranos can be used to teach us about leadership, why not some of the most famous rulers of all time? Having finished the book, here’s the one lesson I can pass along: do not join a managment team where the mode of succession is assassination. It’s just not worth it.

The book was great reading. Each emperor’s entry starts out with some family history and then dives right in to the good stuff. Incest, cross-dressing, torture, murders. Not to mention buggering and pantomime. (But really, how could I not mention them?)

When I was little, our kitchen radio was always tuned to WNEW-AM. They had an ad for a restaurant called S.P.Q.R. that started with a man intoning “The Senate and the People of Rome.” I had his voice in my head throughout my reading of this book. It worked well – keeping me thinking about the people who had to live their day to day lives under this kind of regime.

There’s time for one more lesson. I pass it along for the benefit of those who will one day be celebrities (it’s too late for those who already are): untold riches, supreme power and terrestrial deification can lead a person to the worst kind of behavior. So do like the rappers say, kids, and keep it real.


Blogger Frank Denton said...

Hi, Romy and Vince,

Congratulations on your new blog. If it does nothing else, it should stir you to read all those things you've mentioned as having never read previously. The Fleming books are better than the movies but probably not the best spy fiction. Try LeCarre. Hemingway's novels attracted me in college and still do, 54 years later. I recently read To Have Or Have Not. And the history of ancient Rome is fascinating, although I now pretty much concentrate of Roman Britain. But there are some fine mysteries set in ancient Rome, Steven Saylor, John Maddox Roberts and Rosemary Rowe. I suspect that they depict the culture and society as correctly as they can. I will follow this blog with much anticipation.

4:33 PM


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