Sunday, 18 December 2011


This book is less interesting than it sounds. There are a lot of dates, and a lot of sweeping overstatements. However, there were some interesting elements. I learnt, for example, that Provence in France is called that because Julius Caeser referred to as 'the Province,' and that the name 'plumber' is based on the Latin for lead, because that's what early Roman plumbing pipes were lined with. Caligula's name means 'bootikins' apparently, as he was a child mascot for Roman armies, and you use to wear mini legionnaires' shoes. Everyone knows that Caligula was bonkers, and this snapshot of his childhood maybe helps us understood why (battlefield + child = adult issues)

I also learnt that one major impetus for the conversion of Rome to Christianity was the conversion of the wives of important men to Christianity. I think it's quite interesting that women were the first converts in ancient Rome, because I recently read THE RIVER AND THE SOURCE, which talked about the speed with which women converted in contemporary Kenya. (Indeed, the author's great grandmother first heard of Christianity as 'a god who cares for widows.') Little religions are popping up all the time, and I think it's quite interesting to think about what it is that gives a religion major staying power - what about the story is so compelling that it changes peoples' lives. So I'm wondering: does Christianity speak to the oppressed first, and thus its power? Same with Marxism?

Speaking of oppression, Hughes is clearly not female. He discusses a statue showing a woman being raped by a Roman god, which famously shows the tear drop on the poor lady's cheek. This he calls 'very sexy.' I feel oppressed right now.


  1. I suppose one could argue that all (successful) revolutionary movements begin by giving voice to the oppressed, and most proceed to become tools of oppression using largely the same rhetoric. Something for which the Arab Spring nations should probably keep an eye out.

    It's interesting to think about religions like diseases (not flattering, I know), vectors contagiousness etc. Both historically travel along trade routes, and less "contagious" ones, like Mithraism, that are selective and don't put a value on proselytizing tend to fade...

  2. I like the analogy with disease, especially along trade routes! I never heard of Mithraism, though, I had to google it - very interesting. I went to Ethiopia this year, and it was interesting to see how a totally separate Christianity had developed there too . .