Saturday, 1 October 2016

Our Heritage

We expect thousands of new readers from today's Bureau because of the unquenchable thirst for new insights into the ancient world among the on-line populace.  Our guest editor is M/S Mary Beard, television celebrity, ancient historian and leader of the “No Referendum Votes for Thickos” anti-democratic movement. She writes:
A wonderful discovery! A hitherto unknown transcript  of a meeting in a Pompei “hotel” between Rome’s most celebrated jurist and orator, Cicero, and a now-forgotten but clearly very famous and influential legal specialist who held enormous power in the Roman Forum.
Here are some fascinating extracts from this lengthy document. Gibbon’s “decent obscurity of a learned language” has been retained but I have translated some phrases for ease of comprehension. I have included some of the famous Pompei murals - not the naughty ones! - to give a flavour of the time when this historic meeting took place.
A landmark document and the Bureau helps us all fight the dumbing down of the modern world.  Next week:  my recipe for dormouse gratin.
Marcus Tullius Cicero: Salutem. Civis Romanum sum. Audivi de te multa. [Introductions over the formal exchange begins] .... Quid primum iuridica opus?
Antonius Baldinii Benetus: "Vocatus est nomine Campos Chipperii mitteret V denarii – plus publicus cursus [“postage”] de XL denarii".
M. Tullius Cicero: And your most lasting legal contribution?
A. Baldinii Benetus: [turbatus] Denarii CLX a mensis! Ad infinitum! Iussu iudicis Asper et immitis. Tugendhat! Sed fortasse non civis Romanus de Alemani nomen tribui. Et Illyriorum oderunt nos! Semper!
M. Tullius Cicero: A cruel fate indeed –  
A. Baldinii Benetus: Prodita sum Gunnill! Patsi sum!
M. Tullius Cicero:   but let us turn to nobler matters…
Cicero now explores the broad and generous cultural background of  Roman citizens like Benetus. Here are some fascinating extracts.
M.Tullius Cicero: …what about bondage?
A. Baldinii Benetus: Non credere in servitutem. Libertas est semper preferri.
M. Tullius Cicero: And the Sapphic fashions of Lesbos isle?
A. Baldinii Benetus: Et eos, nesciunt. Ut ego?
M. Tullius Cicero: Do you get excited by  the Colosseum?
A. Baldinii Benetus: Sed non est aedificium magnificum crudelitas

Cicero turns to the Forum and the question of democracy and people power.
M. Tullius Cicero: There are nine thousand members?
A. Baldinii Benetus:  Quod est verum.
M. Tullius Cicero: How many have votes? How many voted in your latest poll?
A. Baldinii Benetus: Non memini.
M. Tullius Cicero: Yes you do.
A. Baldinii Benetus: [dubitat] XXVI
M. Tullius Cicero: XXVI? Out of  VMMMM? Where are the other eight thousand nine hundred and seventy four? In the galleys?
A. Baldinii Benetus:  [silentium]
Lastly they discuss industry in ancient Rome and related matters of trade.
M. Tullius Cicero: Is it true that you built a great sewage works to work from and house your membership? Verum est, quod non habent opera purgamentorum? Cloaca maxima?
A. Baldinii Benetus: Quod non est verum.
M. Tullius Cicero: And that you coined the famous Roman phrase pecunia non olet?*
A. Baldinii Benetus: Paucis veris sunt; tot sententiae.  Quod coepit abit vita mea. Dimitte me inimici mei. In stellis fata.
M. Tullius Cicero: Dicitur: Sordes qui quærunt eam semper. In hoc etiam loco. Gratias.

A. Baldinii Benetus: Ego autem in relegatio sententialiter. Vale.
Our thanks to Mary. We will inform her of the expected huge increase in our readership when the figures are in. Mary's next programme on BBC4 is Did the Senate Barbecue?
* Our letters editor writes:  Many of our readers will have been irritated by this apparently gross error. Justice-for-maddie (from Norbury), whose health continues its steady improvement, has already contacted our editor to complain.

The phrase pecunia non olet? (money has no smell) was, of course, coined (ouch) by the Emperor Vespasian to his son when the latter accused him of ungentlemanly and unbecoming behaviour by taxing the public lavatories of Rome. Cicero, however, had been dead for over a hundred years by then so we appear to have an anachronism.

But a very famous researcher has contacted us in response to our request for help. She writes (we have tidied up her prose a bit): "But we don't find this apparent "historical" argument convincing: all the witnesses are now dead, Cicero is in fact a borough in Chicago, not a historical figure, and, most importantly, the witnesses to the existence of somebody with the ridiculous and un-American name of "Vespasian" are simply not credible."

And who are we to argue with her?

So it stands.