An Update on What I've Been Reading
Now I am back to reading about Nero. Chapter 10 deals with "The Fire in Rome", and I find there was a lot I didn't know about that. But here are a couple of tidbits, probably well-known to people who have had a classical education. The first recorded mention of Christianity in a pagan author (Tacitus):
But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.
Another remarkable quoted bit comes from Suetonius—less roundly credible but an entertaining read, I have been told:
In nothing was he more prodigal than in his buildings. He completed his palace by continuing it from the Palatine to the Esqualine hill, calling the building at first only "The Passage," but after it was burnt down and rebuilt, "The Golden House. Of its dimensions and furniture, it may be sufficient to say thus much: the porch was so high that there stood in it a colossal statue of himself a hundred and twenty feet in height; and the space included in it was so ample, that it had triple porticos a mile in length, and a lake like a sea, surrounded with buildings which had the appearance of a city. Within its area were corn fields, vineyards, pastures, and woods, containing a vast number of animals of various kinds, both wild and tame. In other parts it was entirely over-laid with gold, and adorned with jewels and mother of pearl. The supper rooms were vaulted, and compartments of the ceilings, inlaid with ivory, were made to revolve, and scatter flowers; while they contained pipes which shed unguents upon the guests. The chief banqueting room was circular, and revolved perpetually, night and day, in imitation of the motion of the celestial bodies. The baths were supplied with water from the sea and the Albula. Upon the dedication of this magnificent house after it was finished, all he said in approval of it was, "that he had now a dwelling fit for a man."
What I shall turn to next when I finish with this book is not certain. My Loeb Aurelius has arrived, so I will probably undertake his speeches (and read the introductory material by C.R. Haines), but those appear to be a very slight portion of the volume. In this phase of pleasure reading I go "as my whimsy takes me" (to quote Dorothy Sayers), so I will leave that open.
Possibly my favorite essay in the book about Finley was by Ellen Schrecker—compassing much of the material covered in her previous, more broadly-themed, book. The first essay, by Daniel Tompkins, is available online. He reveals much that I either didn't know or else had forgotten. He is widely hailed as everyone's source or rather an expert in Finleyanalia (my word)— this contains an essay of his which I previously read.
Moses Finley and Politics demands my return. Scholarly writing of this sort is difficult for me, unlike, say, the Nero in which, even though a lot is lost, at least the overarching narrative is plenty evident—but I am devoted enough to Finley to make the hard slog. Tompkins throws a bone to Sarah Lawrence College with this offhand mention:
The name of Renaissance historian Charles Trinkaus does not seem to appear in the Cambridge Finley papers, but a visit to Sarah Lawrence College Library uncovered not only very full correspondence with Moses Finley in later years but a beautifully written paper Trinkhaus prepared for Lynn Thorndike in 1933 on 'economic freedom and gilds', detailed typed notes, probably from the '30s, on Engels' Anti-Duhring, and an unpublished paper on Marxism from the 1990s.
There is no sign that any of those who continued teaching harmed the country or indoctrinated their students, as was often claimed. Indeed, some were later assailed as 'anti-Marxists'. Charles Trinkaus' case is exceptional since Sarah Lawrence College, perhaps more than any American institution, treated the political preferences of its faculty as a private matter and punished no faculty for their convictions. (pp.23-24)