Dream of Rome Book

And here is the book

by Boris Johnson
Pub date: 6/2/06
Price £18.99
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0-00-722441-9

Get it at the Amazon bookstore for under £12!
Also available at the Sunday Times Books First price of £17.09 on 0870 165 8585

Focusing on how the Romans made Europe work as a homogenous civilisation and looking at why we are failing to make the EU work in modern times, this is an authoritative and amusing study from bestselling author Boris Johnson.
In addition to his roles as politician, editor, author and television presenter, Boris Johnson is a passionate Roman scholar. A new television series, airing in March 2005, will see him travelling throughout the Roman Empire in order to uncover the secrets of the governance of the empire, and the reasons behind why the Romans held such power and prestige for so long.

Fiercely interested in Europe and the current issues facing the European Union, Boris Johnson will look at the lessons we could learn from the Romans and how we could apply them to our modern politics. This illustrated book, full of witty descriptions, insight, politics, and more than a few jokes, will accompany the television series.

HarperCollins £18.99 pp288

History: The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson

What the Romans did for him

When Enoch Powell made his notorious speech in 1968 foreseeing the river Tiber foaming with blood, he caused outrage in liberal hearts. Not only had he warned of an unthinkable catastrophe that could arise from unbridled immigration, but he had done it by quoting a Roman poet writing 2,000 years ago. This was simply not on. The days when politicians spouted epigrams from Virgil at each other went out, it was affirmed, with Gladstone. Latin was the secret code of the nobs, learnt the hard way in places such as Eton and long overthrown by a new world encapsulating their thoughts in good old vernacular English. And now, nearly 40 years on, here comes another politician not only writing a book on ancient Rome, but having the chutzpah to try and show us what we could learn from the Romans about making one Europe from a plethora of discordant parts.

What’s more, he makes a pretty good fist of it. Had he not already shown his paces in a clutch of métiers — MP, columnist, editor, television pundit and wit — he would have made an admirable Latin beak. He knows just how to keep his class on the edge of their seats with a hail of modern allusions. His metaphors glitter; his similes soar. He can grow quite lyrical when roused on his passion for Rome and the Romans. “It is the memory of a peaceful and united continent that is so appealing,” he enthuses. “It tolls to us across the ages, like the church bell of a sea-drowned village. It is like a memory of childhood bliss.” It was the Latin language that acted as cement to this arcadia, “with its quality of clicking together sweetly and unforgettably like perfectly dressed blocks of stone”.

In that dawn, then, ’twas bliss to be alive — but not always. Sometimes the natives were restless. The Germanic tribesmen, for example, whom the Romans thought they had subdued, were in the habit of emitting a bloodcurdling war whoop called the baritus. When they all did it together, it produced “a roaring noise like a chorus of Rolf Harris digeridoos”. They did it when they fell on Publius Quintilius Varus, toady, careerist and, as Johnson tells us, ” monumental cock-up artist”. The Romans lost three legions that day. PQV had no choice. He buried the handle of his sword in the ground, then ran up to it “with the determination of a Twickenham try-scorer and skewered himself through the guts”. When the emperor Augustus heard about it, he bashed his head against the wall and refused to shave for weeks. Again and again he moaned the name of his dim-witted chum. “Quintilius Varus,” he intoned, thudding the imperial bonce against the jamb, “give me back my legions.”

Despite the odd disaster like that, the Romans did a neat job of running the greatest empire the world has ever seen. The mastermind behind it was that same Augustus who had wept for his legions. Brilliant, subtle, complex, calculating, slight (he stood only 5ft 6in), he did it by legerdemain. He was emperor 41 years, and in the end he was god. His cult was taken so seriously that priests would have his face sewn on the tops of their cowls “just as the women of Malawi would have the face of Hastings Banda emblazoned on each buttock”. Johnson goes into the great Roman theatre at Orange in France, looks up at the proscenium “and there he is, arm aloft like Shane Warne doing his flipper, effulgent in marble and larger than life”. By the end of his reign, the head of the emperor was more pervasive than Mao’s in China. Sophisticated families had him in their dining rooms: “Imagine the frisson of horror if you went to dinner in Islington and looked up to see a marble rendition of Blair or Thatcher.” You’d think it was a joke; but to the Romans it was drop-dead serious.

Some passages (such as the steamy romance of Antony and Cleopatra) have been so expertly filleted by Shakespeare that they can seem over-familiar. Even here, Johnson is never dull; he goes to visit the spot at Actium where the doomed lovers “did some last-minute Taylor-Burton smooching before embarking”. He sees how hard it is for us to emulate Rome’s achievement in running 100m people spread over what are now 30 nation states “like a gigantic Moulinex”. He accepts that Europe will never recapture that huge and peaceable unity of races and nations “with the face ofevery citizen turned like a sunflower towards the political centre”. But he believes we are fated never to stop trying.

Exercises in likening then to now are invariably doomed to falter at the last hurdle. As Louis MacNeice, teaching the subtleties and ironies of Ancient Greece to students, concluded: “And how can one imagine oneself among them / I do not know / It was all so unimaginably different / And all so long ago.” Not so long as all that, though, nor so different, seen through the quick-silver mind of an entertainer such as Boris Johnson.

101 thoughts on “Dream of Rome Book”

  1. And the follow up book “The Tories: Lessons from History”, wherein the author reflects on a time when anachronistic conservatives held power in the land, and mopes about their passing, longingly reflecting on the day when the working man knew his place, was required to wring his cap in the presence of his betters, and forced to bring up his 14 children on half-a-crown a fortnight.
    Boris recalls such historic figures as Thatcher, Nabarro and Lord Whathisname, and wonders why the inhabitants of modern Britain fail to be taken in by their reactionary ramblings and general nonsense.

  2. Viscous,
    I’d lay odds on you having signed photographs of Harold Pinter and Nelson Mandela. You certainly seem the type.

    Do you happen to know if the Romans ever sponsored terrorists? I was wondering if there was some kind of precedent for the EU funding the likes of the Palestinian Authority and its self-detonating supplicants.

    By the way, you missed an opportunity when telling us about the ‘minimalist’ Roman approach to accounting for tax receipts and expenses. You could have usefully drawn a parallel with the EU. They haven’t signed their accounts off for 11 years now. Heaven knows where the money goes. Just like in Rome I suppose.

    Slightly off topic: When the EU finally wakes up to the stark reality that its useless, windbag “soft diplomacy” has utterly failed yet again, who do you think will nuke the Iranian mad mullahs first? Will it be the Americans, or will the Israelis do us the favour?

    Tally ho. Must dash.

  3. Dear Mr Johnson and team,

    I’m one of those lefties who still enjoys reading a bit of The Spectator now and then. I would like to think that some of you Tories are not all that bad really, but then someone like Mumbles above reminds me of the way your supporters so frequently tend to carry on, and once again I feel rather embarrassed for those of your number who still have a heart.

    Don’t you think you should unequivocally pour water on these sorts of inflamed opinions? And now Mrs Thatcher is no longer at large, perhaps you could denounce some of her less impressive chums- such as Mr Pinochet and the like- so that the new look conservative party has a ring of sincerity to it.

    Oh Mr Mumbles, your reducing the Israeli- Palestine thing to such a silly black and white picture is not helping Mr Johnson, his party, or anyone really. We all wish it were as simple as a ‘commando’ comic, but it really isn’t, so why don’t you shut up about it? I’m sure from what else you wrote that you are not really that stupid, although you do represent a brand of Tory banter which collectively is really very damaging.

    Finally, congratulations on a nice bit of spleen to Mr. Scurra. Surely his sentiment is perfectly understandable and human, if not exactly the usual tory-talk, and the good Tories will surprise us all and make it clear that they understand such feelings and are glad that the ugliness of the past which he reminds us of is simply no-longer necessary in today’s society.

    I must just add that this Rome thing all sounds like a lot of fun, but we must remember that they did invade England, do a lot of looting and watch Christians being eaten by Lions for fun. I’m sure it was a pretty dreadful time for most people, and those at the top often carried on like a lot of immature idiots as well.
    How about having as detailed a look at the future, eh Boris? I’m sure you are the Tory man to do it. I’ve read some of your Spectator stuff and you are hardly as forensic about your vision for the future of Britain as you appear to be about Rome.

  4. In all fairness to the Romans, they fed a lot of pagans to the lions, too. I think it wasn’t a quota system; more like proportional representation for anyone considered expendible.

    sure it was a pretty dreadful time for most people, and those at the top often carried on like a lot of immature idiots as well.

    Ah, nothing like today at least.

    As for Mumbles, as a good socialist, I am highly in favour of damaging Tory banter. Banter away, as long as it’s on the record!

    Given the European origins of the technical term “Balkanization” I’m watching the EU experiment with great interest. Not putting any money on it either way, but watching carefully all the same. We hope one day to unite my country, too.

  5. I must just add that this Rome thing all sounds like a lot of fun, but we must remember that they did invade England, do a lot of looting and watch Christians being eaten by Lions for fun
    Mr. Lacey, your remarks about Vicus Scurra ( could that perhaps be Cagney ?)are , to say the least , less than clear. Is he really to be taken seriously?

    Vicus , in his role of village buffoon, always makes remarks which , if ever indeed taken seriously , might even bring a smile to the aged lips of his particular bete noir ,Lady Maggie.

    Court jesters were always allowed great latitude in their ramblings, as long as they never forgot who buttered their bread, and amused their protector.. Ignore a jester at your peril, they are even witty .. occasionally.

  6. I have to admitt having a problem with Mandela is very annoying. It shows a nasty attention seeking right wing vindictive type rather than someone who thinks about issues. By the way I have added The blog site to celebrity blog web site list. Labour has destroyed the worst aspect of tory rule and now even the tories are refusing to accept extreme right wing views.

  7. £18.99?

    Surely this should get government funding to reduce the price – or at least an EU subsidy or two…

  8. I notice no one spoke up for Pinter – or I am waiting for the end of a longish pause?

  9. It was the Latin language that acted as cement to this arcadia, “with its quality of clicking together sweetly and unforgettably like perfectly dressed blocks of stone”.

    What a wonderful description of Latin. I used to love it until my last Latin master insisted that ‘v’ be pronounced as ‘w’. That was it!! There was no way that Julius Caesar said: “Weeny, weedy, weaky!”

    And good to see Publius Quintilius get a mention. You’d almost think someone reads our comments.

  10. Dear Mr Johnson

    I really enjoyed the documentary, The Dream of Rome. When will I be able to purchase the DVD?

    Kind Regards

    Evan Beer

  11. The comparison of the Roman Empire to the European Union is absurd. The Romans created their empire through conquest; the EU is a voluntary association of free nations born out of WW2 and the idea that Europe was in crisis and in danger of dwindling into irrelevance. Thus,less than two years ago,eight countries that had suffered under a more recent empire joined the EU; not exactly the thing that happened under the Romans. Things were different then – there were no nation states. Exactly. Trying to berate the EU for not successfully selling the dream – as the Roman empire did, apparently – of pan-European unity in the Roman mould is simply a failure of logic. It is not a case of like for like: Johnson might just as well have taken an orange to task for not having achieved green-ness – for not being an apple. To put it in a language he boasts of understanding, his entire argument is an extended non sequitur.

  12. Bill Murray: I don’t believe the comparison between the Roman Empire and the EU is so far apart as you say.
    It would take a great conquest of nationalistic intellect to:-
    a) Get this unlikely melange together as a homogenous state, and :-
    b) An even greater effort to hold them together should there ever be the great rapprochement between such disparate national interests.

    Personally , I’m agin it.

  13. Macarnie’s point still seems to take the view that the EU is the same as the Roman Empire and wants to form a ‘homogenous state’ in the first place. To repeat, the EU is not an imperialistic force seeking to conquer a continent, but a defensive voluntary union of independent nations. The countries of the former Soviet Empire like Estonia and Hungary and Poland would not have joined another empire voluntarily.

    And I’m unclear as to what ‘should there ever be a great rapprochement between such disparate national interests’ means. A rapprochement is what took place in the 1950s after the chaos of WW2 and the destruction of Europe as the world’s imperial centre; the EU is the result of Europe’s attempt to avoid war (and it’s been successful in keeping the Germans at peace, the failure to do which troubled and ultimately ruined the Romans); and to keep up a role in the world both economically and politically.

    It’s the second of these that causes the problem for people like Boris Johnson, of course, but that still doesn’t make the comparison with the Roman Empire work. Johnson wants to laugh at the EU for its absurd political pretensions in trying to unite the continent and yet also to call up the spectre of imperial intrusion into the lives of the nation states. In other words, to criticise it for not being Rome at the same time as castigating it for being another doomed attempt at creating a new Roman Empire. It’s at best self-contradictory, at worst completely misleading.

    As he well knows, it was those very nation states that sat in the Council of Ministers and devised the Europe we now inhabit – and then blamed the EU when anything they didn’t like developed from it. That sounds more like a Roman Empire where independent-minded colonies had created Rome rather than the other way around. And what conclusions did Johnson reach about the EU filtered through the glorious prism of the Roman Empire? That it needs a successful cult of the leader to make it work? Doesn’t a parliamentarian believe in the possibility of a democratic process at a Europe-wide level? Why should parliaments, rather than imperial dictatorships, only flourish in nation states? As we’ve seen already in the previous century, the nation state can also be a highly volatile entity, and summon forth the cult of the leader.

  14. Ah , well:I suppose it’s “ head on the block “ time

    Bill Murray’s attempt to equate the peace bonus with the result of everyone pulling on the same rope ,in my opinion, fails. It fails in particular by not taking the view of what happened after WWI, in particular the Treaty of Versailles. We must learn from history , or why do we have the power of memory and reasoning reasoning?

    Hitler, and indeed, very probably, no one of his sort would have arrived on the scene had the French, in particular, not continued to try to extract blood from a virtually dead man , namely Germany.

    Germany had been reduced to a country of pariahs, and starving pariahs at that. France even invaded, some say totally illegally, the Rhineland in her, by this time , lone quest for reparations.

    The whole notion of a free trade area, the EEC; after the comparative failure of EFTA, was, above all, to bring together the old enemies France and Germany, The BeNeLux economic alliance was already working well,since the end of the war , and subsequent intergovernmental meetings, in particular between the other EEC founder members, were the means to an end of burying the hatchet; at the Treaty of Rome.

    Conrad Adenauer was the first to seek rapprochement with the French . He saw an act of alliance there as essential for a peaceful Europe, because of what had happened post WWI. Then. successively. Ludwig Erhardt ,via Willi Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, et al; right up to the present day, all tried to forge some sort of alliance of equality. There was one notable exception: Gerhard Schroeder, who fancied France as a bedfellow, rather than the more sensible NATO, but even he had but very limited success, because France always wants to be the senior partner. I do not think that there will be many problems now, with Angela Merkel at the helm.

    To recap a wee bit : I believe it was because of DE Gaulles’ fear that Britain would form a natural alliance with Germany, thus lessening his influence in the EEC, which made him reject the British overtures to join for so long.

    Talk to the older generation of Germans, a rapidly disappearing race, ( perhaps it is already too late), and they will all say that the cause of the rise of Hitler was, like their Imperial Eagle, double headed. The first ‘head’ was the continuing , and some say , increasing, French demands for reparations after WWI, and secondly the rise in the threat of Communism, in particular in the industrial areas of post WWI Germany. Either way was a disaster waiting to happen. A people deprived of self esteem reacted, wrongly as it turned out, but when one is at rock bottom , any change seems like an improvement.

    This same stupid and crass attitude to the vanquished did not happen after WWII. Quite the opposite in fact. Aid in large amounts was doled out, in particular to Germany. The result was a miracle of forward planning, and without doubt the success of the German economy, das Wirtschafftswunder. And not least :peace in Western Europe.

    Shades of Remarque? Im Westen nichts Neues :(All quiet on the Western Front)

    Meanwhile Germany was a buffer zone, as it were, between Communism and Capitalism, bolstered and watched over by NATO, with which France, wanted nothing to do . (No surprise there then.)
    So who is really keeping the peace in Europe: The Europeans alone? Or is this apparent phenomenon somehow closely linked to our allies across the pond and the happy band of brotherhood, NATO?

    As for the reasons for those eastern European countries wanting in on the act: the answer, in my opinion, is 90% economic, and the rest , possibly political. And wait until we hit the remainder; even now knocking on the door. Socialism has never worked, and will fail again. Everyone cannot be equal: to enforce this tenet will only end as it always ends in State corruption and total turmoil.

  15. Macarnie seems to have gone off the top board into a deep pool of incomprehensibility. Goodness only knows what he’s on about. But I’ll give him one thing; he makes more sense than Boris Johnson. As for this correspondence, well, velut ex pleno et abundanti perditis, cum interim fortasse ille ipse qui alicui vel homini vel rei donatur dies ultimus sit,as B.J. would no doubt agree.

  16. I think Boris is great. He’s got the biggest gonads on the block. Reluctantly, then, I have to agree with Bill Murray. The Rome-EU thing is pure crap. Just look at who else is coming out with the same stuff. Tap in ‘Roman Empire European Union’and you get some very strange hombres indeed. For example, Todd Strandberg – a wacko of the far religious right in the US – runs a website devoted to how close the world is coming to fulfilling Biblical prophecy. Under the heading “Biblical Prophecy and the European Union” you get this:

    History has proved, to the satisfaction of most Bible scholars who study prophecy in depth, that the first four world kingdoms prophesied through Nebuchadnezzar’s dream have come and gone. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom was the first. The Medes and Persians comprised the second world empire. The Greek Empire under Alexander the Great was the third. The Roman Empire, which split into two, with capitals in Rome and Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), was the fourth great world kingdom.
    One is left to come upon the scene–the final world governmental system represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream as the feet and toes made of iron mixed with clay. This final world kingdom, we believe, is far along in the process of coming together today in the form of the European Union (EU). The fifth world empire symbolized in the statue is prophesied to be an extension of the fourth kingdom. That is exactly what the EU is –an extension of the ancient Roman Empire…

    And so it goes. Needless to say, Todd is bonkers; but he’s in line with Boris on this one, and it makes me wonder whether the MP for Henleyon-Thames shouldn’t be exchanging his seat for one in Barking…

  17. Leave Boris alone. He’s a genius, very funny and sexy, and knows about Rome having been a correspondent there and doneit at school what he says is fine by me, whatever it is.

  18. Bang on the money, raincoaster old chap. Certainly, this Latin stuff is jolly infectious. Indeed, how else can an Old Etonian assert his superiority in these days of specious political correctness, when a spade can no longer be named as such? Having a Classical education is all well and good – but one has to show it off as well, what? If nothing else, one owes it to one’s parents, who invested so much of their hard-earned wonga in one.

  19. Oh lord. Only took a week of Latin; unfortunately, I took it the same week I took German, Greek and the full regular course load. Dropped them all when I came to my senses and took equitation instead. Money well-spent, as I did make a living as a groom for awhile. I went to a hippie school. If you want to discuss esoteric macrame techniques, I’m your go-to girl.

  20. Excellent podcast!

    He is a bit hard to keep to a wordcount/set time, isn’t he? Still, very entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  21. Well, having seen the documentary, and now (courtesy of Melissa) read the book, I must declare that, good as the documentary was, the book is far better.

    This may simply be because a book is an enduring object, while a TV documentary is an transient event. It is possible to re-read passages from a book, but unless you’ve recorded it, a documentary rapidly becomes a vague memory. And even if you have recorded it, it can take ages to find some brief episode within it.

    Perhaps the most noteworthy difference between the documentary and the book is the different treatment of the disastrous loss in Germany of three legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus in 9 AD. In the documentary, it appears towards the end, almost as an afterthought. In the book, the epic disaster unfolds from the very beginning, and the name of Varus appears in the very first sentence of Chapter I, and the full ignominy and shock and lasting influence of the defeat – right down to the present day – is expanded upon in considerable detail. The result is that, in the book, this disaster – perhaps the moment when the Titanic of the Roman Empire hit its iceberg – reverberates through the whole book in a way it does not in the TV documentary. One gains from the outset a sense of the looming fall of the empire, and with it a sense of irrecoverable loss, and a sympathy for Augustus, banging his head against a wall for weeks after the catastrophe.

    Apart from this, I don’t remember in the documentary the interesting parallels that are drawn between Augustus and Jesus in the book.

    And the one entirely unconvincing chapter for me, both in the book and in the documentary, was the account of how a malodorous Gaul trudges from his hut into the city of Nimes, to there metamorphose into a Roman citizen. It is as unconvincing an idea as the suggestion that the casinos of the glittering city of Las Vegas converted Nevadans, and perhaps Californians, en masse into gamblers.

    But, for all the ideas in the book, all the portraits of Roman life, and all the garum, it was one single word in one single line that filtered back into my mind after I had closed the book. It appears on page 51:

      In the end, Rome was to be conquered by Christianity, and much of the Roman Empire – above all the North African breadbasket and the eastern Mediterranean – was eventually to fall to Islam

    And the one word was:


    Egypt and Libya are frequently described as the ‘breadbasket’ or ‘granary’ of the Roman Empire, but how much grain does modern Europe import from North Africa these days? Precious little, I’ll bet. And perhaps even none at all. The climate is too arid. What caused the demise of the North African granary, and when was that demise? Was it a long slow process, or a rapid event? I found myself wondering whether we were looking at an ancient example of something exceedingly modern and topical: Global Warming.

    And, with that that thought, I began to piece together the outlines of yet another account of the fall of the Roman Empire, and the rise of Christianity.

  22. idlex, you’re a very smart boy. But it’s not only global warming that is responsible for the depletion of Northern Africa and the spread of the Sahara desert. If you read Jane Jacobs’ excellent book Dark Age Ahead, she mentions overfarming, failure to rotate crops, and generally poor land use as causal factors. Open the bible and read all about the great cedar forests of Lebanon…same thing. Chopped down for the plaster industry.

    Darwinism applies to the evolution of civilization just as much as it applies to the evolution of species; it’s impossible that we would have reached this point without a few obvious failures along the way.

  23. Clearly the loss of the cedars of Lebanon, and the Caledonian forest in Scotland, are purely the result of human activity. But the Sahara is a matter of some dispute, it seems

      The Sahara has undergone a series of wet periods, the most recent occurring c.5,000-10,000 years ago; it was not until c.3000 B.C. that the Sahara transformed into its present arid state. There is dispute as to whether the desertification of the region has continued into historic time. Those who support this theory contend that increasing aridity is the reason for the recorded advance of desert conditions into areas under cultivation in Roman times in the north and more recently (since the late 1960s) in the south. Opponents of this view explain such changes as being the result of alterations in land-use practices and neglect of water-supply and irrigation systems. encyclopedia.com

    Clearly most climate change has not been caused by human activity, if only because we’ve only been around as agents of climate change since relatively recently. Nobody’s blaming us for the series of ice ages in one of whose interglacials we’re living right now.

    People tend to think of climate as a constant, when it isn’t and never has been.

  24. He does come across as somewhat anti-Christian. Also doubt that the Donatists as a whole would have appreciated being equated with the Circumcellions. As for his statement on p.188: “In their suicidal behaviour, in their belief in an afterlife, and in their rejection of the values of the culture in which they found themselves, the early Christians evoke obvious comparisons with Islamic suicide bombers of today’. I don’t recall Tacitus or Eusebius mentioning large explosions and multiple deaths when a Christian was put to death by others for their beliefs.

  25. Boris does indeed seem a tad uncomfortable with Christianity.

    What I found myself wanting to argue was that Rome was in slow economic decline long before it fell, and that this decline resulted in increasing poverty and hardship, and in such circumstances people necessarily adopt an ascetic way of life and the values that accompany it. The rise of Christian asceticism, I was going to suggest, was a consequence of Rome’s economic decline, and not, as Gibbon thought, a cause of it.

    As for the Christian belief in an afterlife, this also was perhaps a consequence of the privations they helplessly endured during their own lifetimes. If you’re a wealthy Roman enjoying the games and the baths and the garum, death probably isn’t very appealing. But if you’re living a life of starvation and drought and disease, death might appear a better option.

    And with the fall of Rome, when bread and circuses could no longer be afforded, and the public baths closed, and the aqueducts stopped supplying water for the fountains, Christian asceticism became unavoidable for everybody.

    But to argue this way is to suggest that circumstances largely determine values, rather than vice versa.

  26. Interesting…

    I read a book by Adrian Hilton (ex-PPC for Slough) on this theme (in fact, he was sacked for articles in The Spectator on this very theme!), and he has answers you missed – especially on the EU’s forces of cohesion. You state the EU lacks an emperor, and that the Euro does not symbolise a single state. You’ll find the answers in Hilton’s book – it’s an eye-opening tome for anyone interested in the development of the EU and its parallels with the Roman Empire.

  27. His thesis centre’s on the Roman Empire’s survival strategy – the political decision to fuse with an ascendant Christianity; the forging of a cohesive State religion and the emergence of the Holy Roman Empire. This is the trick that Boris missed. The aspirations of the EU are only fully comprehended in this context, hence the permeation in the EU of Roman Catholic social doctrine, and the Pope’s continuing opposition to the accession of Turkey to join a ‘Christian club’.

    Only last week the president of the EPP (Pottering), in a speech before the Pope, referred to the EU’s Constitution as a ‘holy text’…

    On the Euro, Hilton has an interesting chapter on the symbolism of Caesar on coinage. ‘Render unto the EU that which belongs to the EU’ is a viable echo of Jesus’ words, noting that the EU is now superior to national sovereignty in many respects.

    Boris’ programme was thought provoking, but it lacked scrutiny of the spiritual and Christian heritage of the EU, which is arguably its most powerfully cohesive element.

  28. I agree that Boris wasn’t too strong on the rise of Christianity.

    But you are describing the EU more or less as new Caholic Christendom, and forgetting that Christianity has fragmented in at least two important ways. Firstly the Great Schism with what is now the Eastern Orthodox church. Secondly the Reformation, and the rise of Protestantism, mostly in northern Europe.

    Any attempt by the Roman Catholic church to take over the EU would probably lead to sectarian warfare across Europe. They should keep their noses out of it.

  29. Indeed, the 11th century and 16th century schisms fractured Christendom, but Christendom itself is (by definition) a catholic concept, and therefore an intrinsic belief of the Roman Catholic Church about itself.

    As long as the notion of Christendom remains in the political consciousness, there will be continuing efforts to re-unify it. The present Pope is already in dialogue with the Russian and Greek Orthodox leaders, and (let’s face it) Protestantism has just about had it. I cannot see sectarian warfare across Europe; the EU is too subtle for that (and, like Boris, people don’t talk about the issues, or they get sacked for doing so).

  30. and (let’s face it) Protestantism has just about had it.

    That’s a bit rich coming from someone sporting the name of the famous English martyr, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

    And, no, I don’t think that Protestantism has ‘just about had it’. And even if it had, someone would have to re-invent it.

  31. I didn’t mean to offend with my comment, it was (sadly) an undeniable perception that (in England at least) Protestantism is on the wane, and where it continues (N Ireland, parts of Scotland), the term is so frequently juxtaposed with ‘extremism’ or narrow-mindedness, that even faithful Protestants are reluctant to use the term of themselves. We live in an age where to be Catholic, Buddhist, New Age, whatever, is somehow cool, but to be Protestant is something to be ashamed of.

    Of course, I do not agree. But neither am I the first to observe this sorry state of affairs:


  32. You did not offend.

    I just don’t think the state of Anglicanism in Britain is any guide to the state of Protestantism in the world.

    It is rather thriving in America, after all, with Christian fundamentalists an important part of Bush’s core constituency.

    And in America, the Roman Catholic church is reeling under a host of cases of child sexual abuse.

  33. You sound a jolly interesting chap.

    You would be more then welcome to continue this conversation on my blog.

    It’s a little out of place continuing here.

  34. It’s a little out of place continuing here.

    Is it? Why?

    And I didn’t know you had a blog. It reminds me that I also have a blog. But I have forgotten where.

    I’m quite happy to take a look at your blog, but I’m currently resident on Boris’ blog.

    And I don’t imagine Melissa is going to kill off the Dream of Rome thread immediatley, since it’s only been going a few weeks, and the book was only published a couple of months back.

  35. Umm..

    It seemed a little out of place because…

    Boris avoided in his book everything that engages us!

    I’m happy to reside on Boris’ blog as well, but my new blog can be observed by clicking on my name. On the EU, I intend focusing on exactly where Boris didn’t – the Holy Roman dimension, and the effects of the Reformation.

  36. Never thought of clicking on anyone’s name! Silly me.

    And I see you are Thomas Cranmer!

  37. Never thought of clicking on anyone’s name!

    Oh, fine. Remind me again what I’m doing here?



    I see that “Overcoming shyness” course was money well-spent!

  38. Tut, raincoaster, what have you done?

    I used to have a nice, green margin on the right hand side of my screen.

    But now my buddy idlex goes right off the edge, and I have to scroll to read all his comment.


    I am indeed Cranmer, idlex.

    You are most welcome to contribute on my blog.

    I need Reformation- minded, intelligent contributors!

  39. True Idlex

    (ps raincoaster’s indulgent post rectified!) Keep coming raincoaster, we can’t do without you – we believe you!

  40. I need Reformation- minded, intelligent contributors! (Cranmer)

    I hope I’m moderately intelligent – although the failure to even think of clicking on people’s names perhaps belies even that small claim.

    In respect of Christianity, my own view is that it should be taken very seriously, purely on the grounds that it defines and underpins so much of our modern Western civilisation. I sometimes think that we in the West are all Christians of some sort or other, whether we are believers or not, simply because we are the inheritors of 1,500 years or so of Christian culture – and we ought to be interested in that.

    So I’m intrigued by Roman Catholicism, and also by a Protestantism which seems to have been an inevitable and necessary revolt against Rome. I’d like to find out more about Eastern Orthodoxy, but I’ve never really understood the problem of the filioque clause that caused the rift.

    Anyway, I’ll keep an eye on your blog (and raincoaster’s – yes I did click) and maybe a few others.

    And did you get Boris’ book, raincoaster?

  41. Thanks for fixing that, Melissa. I know it’s been far too quiet around the office lately, and just wanted to make sure you felt needed.

    Yeah, totally.

    Thanks idlex, I’m glad to see you not only clicked but posted. I am honoured. And also very glad it was a moderately credible post, rather than some self-indulgent rant on the relative merits of different kinds of public washrooms, as I have been known to post in a particularly bad mood.

    No, I haven’t gotten the book yet. Sometimes it does take awhile.

    My blog has gotten quite a lot of interest over the past couple of days, for an unexpected reason. I just sent out a press release (with a link) for a literary group meeting featuring a particular crime reporter as our speaker. Today I received many dozens of hits from all over Canada, from CanwestGlobal, which owns virtually all of our major newspapers. Turns out our speaker got his big break by being Conrad Black’s strike breaker at the Calgary Herald. Somehow, he forgot to include that in the bio he sent me. Now there is the potential for serious drama at our meeting, as it seems all the journalists have been busy forwarding the email among themselves.

    I could NOT be more delighted! Unforgettable drama, conflict, and guaranteed media coverage? Bring it, bitches!

  42. Idlex, the filioque clause was as much about politics as it was about theology (another topic for my blog!).

    Some historians have suggested that the Franks in the ninth century tried to pressure the Pope to adopt the filioque in order to drive a wedge between the Roman Church and the other patriarchates.

    Filioque (‘and from the Son’) was added to the Nicene Creed in 589: ‘Credo in Spiritum Sanctum qui ex patre filioque procedit (‘I believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and Son’). It refers to the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. Although it was accepted by the Western church as a belief by the end of the 4th century, the formula was not authorised for general liturgical use before the early part of the 11th century. It was assailed vehemently by Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul), in 867 and 879. The Eastern church did not accept the addition on two distinct grounds:

    (1) The addition was made unilaterally, altering a creed approved by early ecumenical councils; and
    (2) the formula reflected a particular Western conception of the Trinity, to which most Byzantine theologians objected.

    Biblically, on the Eastern side, John (15:26) speaks only of a proceeding from the Father.

    The clause was probably devised in response to Arianism, which denied the full divinity of the Son. To the Byzantines, however, the clause also appeared to compromise the primacy (‘monarchy’) of the Father, which according to the Eastern church is the source of deity.

    An unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the two points of view has been made at various points in history, and the present Pope sees it as a primary mission. Observing the Greek response to his overtures, the issue
    remains as political as theological. ‘No Pope here’ is as much a battle cry in parts of Greece as it is in Northern Ireland!

    Hope this helps!

  43. I’ve been lurking around on this blog for quite some time but having finished reading Dream of Rome and having enjoyed it thoroughly, I felt I really should pipe up and say thanks to Boris for such a great read. I’d been able to watch Dream of Rome when I was over in the UK earlier this year and had really enjoyed it so I was thrilled to see the book available as well.

    I’ve recommend Dream to many friends and all agrees that it is well worth keeping an extra copy around to give out (as has happened several times to me already. I can’t give them MY copy. What if they lose it, keep it, or – horrors! – erase my marginalia). So bravo, Boris. And please know that you have a devoted circle of readers in New York City — no small task given the number of blank stares we receive over the counters of countless bookshops here in otherwise book-riddled Manhattan. Still, the Internet is a wonderful thing when it comes to book ordering.

    Oh! And thanks to Melissa for doing a fantastic job here on the site!

  44. I just hope she doesn’t close the comments before I finally get my copy. I’m terribly opinionated, and if prevented from saying my piece, could explode leaving large, messy stains all over the HTML.

  45. Raincoater,

    Listen to idlex, and consider that a book on the EU and Rome that ignores the role of Christianity is profoundly flawed. Follow up Boris’s book with Adrian Hilton’s ‘The Principality and power of Europe’ – that’s the missing link. He doesn’t mention my role in it all, but the Holy Roman roots of the EU are examined, and the continuing Catholic influence on th EU through its social teaching.


  46. Cranmer,

    Thank you for your outline of the filioque clause.

    I find the notion of a trinity hard to grasp, but on encountering the many Egyptian trinities ( almost always father, mother, and son. e.g. Amun, Mut, Khonsu ), I’ve wondered whether it’s an ancient Egyptian notion. And also whether the Catholic cult of Mary (almost a church within a church) is simply the continuation of the ancient cult of Isis. I’ve gone on to wonder whether Christianity did not oust the many religions that preceded it, but simply absorbed them into a Roman religion which in turn reflected a Roman empire which had itself absorbed so many other cultures.

  47. Idlex,

    I have to agree with your observations. I was in Egypt last summer (I know I’m meant to be dead, but that enhances my ability to be here, there, and everywhere), and the concept of a triune deity certainly has Egyptian roots (Isis Horus and Seth being a principle one). There is also considerable theological evidence for the notion of ‘one true God’ being Egyptian, through the gradual emergence of the sun god Rah as supreme over other minor deities, which Moses, from his time in Egypt, adapted for the Israelites (there is clear Deuteronomic reference to minor deities, implying that Yahweh was chief among them).

    You are right about the cult of Mary. The ‘conversion’ of Constantine resulted in the fusion of a religio-political movement, which became the Holy Roman Empire and the continuing Roman Catholic Church. Although the actual ‘divinity’ of Mary (as ‘Mother of God’)and her assumption into heaven are papal proclamations of the 1960s, the Marian legends are millennia old, and doubtless have roots in an equivalent of pagan Rome.

  48. O course there’s also Akhenaten’s monotheism, worshipping the aten solar disc.

    And it is suggested by some that Christianity incorporated much of Mithraism into itself.

    And the Vatican is built on top of the the temple of Magna Mater.

    In many ways, this might be regarded as simply the continuation and culmination of the process, which Boris mentioned, by which foreign gods were incorporated into the pre-Christian Roman pantheon.

  49. I would like to correct an error. It is not, nor has it ever been, part of the Catholic faith that Mary, the Mother of Christ, is divine. To say so is a misrepresentation of actual Roman Catholic teaching (although I’m sure it was not the intention to do so). Similarities may exist between aspects of the Catholic faith and pagan cults, but in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church these dogmas developed over time with reflection upon the scriptures by the Fathers of the early Church as well as the great theologians of the Middle Ages, such as St Thomas Aquinas. To present aspects of Roman Catholic teaching as some sort of pagan graft onto the faith does not encompass the broader reality of how those beliefs developed.

  50. The question I’ve been chewing over is this: how did the profusion of different religions in imperial Rome somehow crystallise into one single religion within something like a couple of hundred years?

    Or, how were devotees of Isis, Magna Mater, Mithras, Attis, Sol Invictus, etc, etc, converted to Christianity? And my suggestion is that Christianity adapted itself to include these beliefs. You worship Isis, my dear? Well, she’s our Christian Mary! You tell me Mithras had twelve disciples? Well, our chap did too! And so on. The devotees of these various cults, I am suggesting, were inducted into Christianity with their beliefs largely intact, but the objects of their devotion renamed. Indeed, it is rather hard to see how it could have been otherwise, given the propensity of most people to adhere to their beliefs.

    And so instead of a whole set of religious cults dying out, and being replaced by a brand new religion, these various cults instead formed tributaries to the single river of Christianity.

    The beliefs of this emergent Christianity were probably not at all dogmatic, if they needed to be flexible enough to include so much else. They probably only became dogmas, endlessly refined by doctors of the Church, once the process of absorbing all these other religions was complete.

    And the pay-off was that while the physical Western Roman empire disintegrated, it was replaced by a spiritual Roman empire that did not possess men’s bodies and possessions, but instead their hearts and minds.

  51. “I would like to correct an error. It is not, nor has it ever been, part of the Catholic faith that Mary, the Mother of Christ, is divine. To say so is a misrepresentation of actual Roman Catholic teaching (although I’m sure it was not the intention to do so).”

    Well, not entirely. The veneration of Mary (hyperdouleia) is of a higher order than that conferred upon other saints (douleia).

    When Mary is accorded honour ‘over’ God (by virtue of being his mother); is referred to as part of an ‘Earthly Trinity’ by Cardinal Manning; is ‘Queen of Heaven’ (Pope Pius IX); is prayed to; is believed to have been born without sin (Immaculate conception – 1854); is believed to have ascended bodily to heaven; is ‘co-redeemer’ with Christ…

    Does not all of this amount to the very concept of divinity? With Christ, she can forgive sins. That, according to Scripture, is an attribute of God.

    As Idlex observes, the Roman ‘Mary’ is developed from pagan goddess cults. The fusion was a political necessity (Christianity had no other ‘goddess’ to keep adherents to those cults happy) in order to hold a decaying Empire together.

  52. I first of all have to say that I am coming from Roman Catholic tehological background, so doubtless how a Roman Catholic and an Anglican will view and interpret Marian dogmas is going to be different. I was speaking in a strict sense of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and proposes for it’s members to believe. Nowhere within the body of work that constitutes the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is Mary referred to or acknowledged as being divine. A perusal of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will confirm this. Nowhere within that body of work is she accredited as having the power to forgive sins. In Roman Catholicism there is also the distinction between devotion (prayer said to Mary and the saints asking their intercession with God on behalf of the supplicant) and adoration (worship of God alone) – of course this is a belief of Roman Catholicism and is going to be a bone on contention with the Reformed Churches. Also there can be a divergence between what individuals within the Roman Catholic Church believe and what the Church actually teaches. I do hope I’m not coming across as hostile, and my apologies if I am, but I just wanted to put across that what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and what people think the Roman Catholic Church teaches are not always the same.

  53. “…what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and what people think the Roman Catholic Church teaches are not always the same.”

    And neither is what some Roman Catholics say the Roman Catholic Church teaches!

    If Jesus alone is our mediator (1Tim 2:5), it means he alone can forgive sins (Acts 4:12). If, according to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Mary is co-mediator and ‘co-redemptrix’, she manifestly has an efficacious role. According again to the official teaching of Rome, she was born without sin (‘Immaculate Conception’), yet according to my Bible, she made an offering for her sins (Lk 2:22f) and was in need of a saviour (Lk 1:47).

    Rome’s ‘Mary’ has all the attributes of divinity. You may not find the term used, but the theology is implicit. Idlex is therefore right in his observation that ‘Mary’ is a pagan goddess by another name.

  54. Agree to disagree?


    I wanted to discuss much, much further, but if you have no response to my last point, I’ll create a Boris link on my blog. This is jolly interesting stuff that some may want to continue on there.


  55. I was offering to agree to disagree as it seemed we were going to be going round in circles waiting for one or the other to finally admit we were wrong, which in reality was never going to happen – very much a microcosm of the ecumneical movement really. But as you wish to continue, then far be it from me to back away.

    The Catholic Church has alway held beliefs which were and are severe bones of contentions for others, for example the doctrine of transubstantiation, papal infallibility, the nature and number of the sacraments, etc., and yet the Catholic Church has been explicit in its beliefs and has not shirked from clearly stating it’s beliefs. It seems incongruous to me then that the same Catholic Church would not be equally clear and forthright in it’s teaching and beliefs on Mary. I would imagine then that if you are claiming that the Catholic Church teaches that 1) Mary is divine, and 2) that she can forgive sins, that you will be able to supply references for the teaching documents of the Catholic magesterium where this is explicitly stated.

  56. OT: still no bloody book. Will have to wait till Tuesday till I can go back to the Post Office and bother them again to look for it. Our posties are pretty honest, so I don’t think it got stolen, but it might have been misplaced. Annoying.

  57. Probably landed in Halifax and thought their job was done. If they put it on the dogsled before the spring icepack breakup, it just might get here in the next couple of days. If they gave it to the goddam voyageurs it could be months!

  58. I was reading the latest post in the Higher Education section as I was going through my mail. Interestingly, as I reached the part about “avoiding reliance on foreigners’ contributions” I came upon a delivery notice. Seems I’ve gotten a package from the UK…

    postage due.

  59. I enjoyed Boris’s books so much that I hesitated to mention this at all. Because I don’t want it taken as a swipe at the author. It’s not. At all. It is, however, a slight swipe at the publisher.

    Boris, I adore your books. I’ve recommended them, given copies to friends and referred back to them at various times over the course of a number of discussions. But Boris, dear Boris — why no indexes in Dream of Rome and Friends, Voters, Countrymen? Thank goodness for the index in Lend Me Your Ears because the idea of hunting through 500 plus pages for the odd reference here and there – well, not so much thank you.

    I’ve brushed up against this vast emptiness where an index should be more and more lately (can one brush up against a void?). I know it’s now new but it is becoming more and more common. A worrisome trend that makes me wonder if more and more people involved in the process of book design and production are not, themselves, readers. Is it that the publishing “powers that be” now see indexes as luxuries of time or money that they cannot afford in the competitive battle for dwindling readership and the quicker turnover of shelf space? Luxuries? Pfui! Valuable, timesaving tools that enhance a book’s usefulness and appeal? Much more the thing.

    It pains me – this growing indexlessness – not only as an indexer (an odd sort of job, I know – but mine own) but as a reader. Did they tell you there was no time, did they refuse to pony up for it? When you once again put non-fiction pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard), perhaps the case can be made to HarperCollins that the books can only be that much better when something as useful as an index is included. If they fuss about resources, tell them you know an indexer happy to oblige gratis and I’ll be on it like a shot.

    Gads, that ended up being really long way of expressing a very small pet peeve. Still, I feel better having gotten it out. 🙂 And it in no way means I won’t be snapping up your future work and foisting them on all and sundry of my circle. I will. And they know it. And they also look forward to it.

  60. I second that. This is exactly the kind of book where one most keenly feels the need for an index. Generally, I avoid buying nonfiction that’s not indexed. And surely it’s got to be good for some course credit for some intern, no?

    Haven’t picked up the book yet. Getting it this afternoon.

  61. this growing indexlessness – not only as an indexer

    Dunno much about publishing, but I’ve sort of imagined that it’s all done with computers these days, like most newspapers.

    If so, I would expect it to be relatively easy to generate indexes (indices?), unless there’s a black art to indexing.

  62. The only time the black arts were invoked on one of my indexes was the 9/11 Commission Report and that was because it was monstrously huge and the deadline frighteningly close.

    But there is an art to it. Wording in very short spaces is critical and the splitting of hairs between entries can make a huge difference – depending on the topic.

    Computers, handy though they are and extremely good at alphabetizing, can generate only a concordance of words (or even words within a certain range in relation t other words) but can’t create the index entries that describe relationships between subjects or tell where a discussion of a subject starts and ends.

    For example, not too long ago – I did the index for James Risen’s book State of War. A computer could list the pages where the phrase Al Qaeda appeared but would be less able to cope with populating the entry, “structural evolution of” unless the exact words “structural evolution” appeared along side the name Al Qaeda.

    On the other hand, a human indexer can see that discussions on shifting chain of command, cell formation, etc. also belong there. Certainly we use computers but the only way to do in an index is a the very old fashioned act of reading the book (even if it’s quick read).

    More than you wanted to know, I’m sure 🙂

  63. Got the book this afternoon. Am enjoying it with a carefully selected soundtrack: Diamanada Galas’ work on the Armenian massacre, much Enigma (Dutch, aren’t they?), and Gregorian chants. Almost halfway through now, and I have to say:

    Melissa has the neatest handwriting known to mankind; probably has no neuroses at all!

    Boris will always be a writer, rather than a politician, until he learns to write with more expensive pens!

    Can’t wait till some smart publisher convinces Boris to do a Life of Cicero.

    Gotta love a book whose acknowledgements include a man credited as “disgruntled farmer”.

    I’m still chewing over the postage due thing; turned out it was CUSTOMS DUE rather than postage. The morons probably thought “House of Commons” was some bookstore in London. I shall be applying to get my money back, as the book was used! “See, it’s been written in!” Customs is only supposed to apply to new items imported on a marketing basis, and this very clearly falls outside that category. The actual GST (VAT kinda thingy) was two dollars and change, but the “handling fee” was five bucks. They certainly did manhandle the book and did a crappy job of using packing tape to stick the whole thing back together. Still, the book’s in good condition.

    Anyway, LIFE OF CICERO. Think about it.

  64. Very sweet of you raincoaster – can’t understand this ‘customs’ charge though. I got it weighed and stamped in the House of Commons Post Office for you and they should know the protocol for books sent over the pond.

  65. I’ll be applying for a refund. I’m sure whoever levied the fee just assumed it was ordered online or whatever. The book should not have had GST charged, nor the handling fee. Don’t worry, I’ll get it back.

    BTW there is now a lineup of people who want to borrow the book. They may give up on waiting for me and buy it themselves.

  66. Boris is better-known than I thought over here. I met a friend at a cafe today and pulled out the book and was explaining how it came to me; when I said the words “Boris Johnson” eight people swivelled around to look. Then again, perhaps they merely feared a bicycle attack.

  67. Yeah, bicycle attack.

    Stay away from the palace of Westminster if you don’t want to come under severe bicycle attack from renegade Tories.

  68. Finished the book, and greatly enjoyed it, not least because Boris is in perfect agreement with me re: the cult of emperor and its centrality to the viability of empire itself. As usual with Boris’ writing I loved the writing and rejected most of the conclusions, but I’m used to that by now and suspect he’s over it too.

    I only had to look up three words!

  69. Forbes magazine is calling for the re-introduction of gladiatorial battles and other blood sports. The author must not be a Texan quail hunter if he thinks there aren’t any around.

    Of course, being American he is calling for sports they can watch, rather than participate in. It’s Being There for sports. I once had a lengthy conversation about sports with an American which stopped abruptly when we realized I was talking about doing sports and he was talking about watching them. This is a huge cultural battle in Vancouver, but maybe we’re just strange over here. No time to watch tv, we’re all out hanging off mountains.

    Or posting on websites. Fine, one of you was gonna say it, I just beat you to it.

    Anyway, the author of the article is a very fuzzy thinker indeed, and can’t tell his universal from his monoversal. It’s all Greek to him. But here’s a sample anyway:

    The aggressive acts we see on the field are in fact healthy expressions of base emotions–and watching them not only helps us to stay in touch with our true selves; it also helps us control our own violent impulses.

    It’s time to reconsider violence in sports and embrace the essential humanity of watching two grown men beat each other’s brains out.

  70. Just finished reading it and I must say I’m all for this Rome lark.

    Sounds pretty cool, all wearing togas, sitting around heated baths eating olives.

    I bet there’s a massive market for some kind of ‘authentic’ Roman bath, perhaps where you can get an olive oil massage off one of those celestial virgins. There’d have to be some kind of buffet too where you can lounge on one of those cool Roman settees and get fed grapes and stuff.

    Maybe someone should go one step further even and open some kind of Roman themed holiday spa!

    If you are like me and haven’t learned about the Romans since you were nine years old then the book is different and interesting. The comparisons with the EU are kept concise and to the point, the book is certainly not a ‘rant’ but very informative and confers some interesting ideas.

    Some kind of glossary of the Latin used would have been useful however, and although interesting enough enough the book is probably as short as you could get away with for £18.99 (I did get £2 off mine mind). Serious readers might want to wait for some more hefty reductions or even the paperback.

  71. Bugger! Hit the wrong key and blew up a masterpost.

    What I was saying was:

    First off, I don’t review. I opine. This will hopefully excuse much.

    As an introduction to the Roman Empire and the reasons for its long-running success, The Dream of Rome is perfectly marvelous. Boris obviously loves his subject, knows it fluently, and isn’t afraid to go to the experts when he’s at a loss. Picks interesting experts, as well. And of course the writing flows like the river in a Hudson School painting. It’s quick, it’s beautiful, and it’s sometimes challenging.

    And, like the contemporary Hudson river, it’s sometimes full of crap.

    As an explanation of why the EU is doomed to failure, however, The Dream of Rome fails to prove its case. Really, it must be said that it doesn’t seem to try very hard. Boris has some policy points to make, and he makes them, but any examination of the EU is glaringly incomplete without mention of our apparently limitless desire to form meta-states like the UN, NATO, G7, NAFTA, etc etc. There is a reason behind this, and it’s not mere economic advantage. Nor is it mere ego.

    The only emperor-manque the world has who has any sort of real power is Osama bin Laden. So it’s easy to see the point of the Americans who don’t want his videos and audio broadcast, lest they start a cult of personality. His power comes from the fact that he writes the cheques. Once that stops, he’s over.

    William S. Burroughs, who had a knack for being as right as he was wasted, wrote a fascinating piece on why we don’t have grand Augustus figures anymore. Here it is:

    No More Stalins, No More Hitlers

    We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision.

    They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of past.

    There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers.

    The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident. Inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

    –William S. Burroughs, “No More Stalins, No More Hitlers,” from Dead City Radio, Island Records, 1990; and Interzone, Viking Books, 1989.

  72. I’m glad a few people have read it now too.

    It’s certainly a good read. But I agree with raincoaster when she says, “As usual with Boris’ writing I loved the writing and rejected most of the conclusions…” There’s nothing pretentious about Boris’ writing. He’s someone who seems to write exactly as he speaks.

    What I found a bit implausible was the idea of all these barbarians wanting to join the Roman empire, like it was the EU or something. They didn’t want to join, and fought like mad for the most part to stay out of it, because its purpose was to funnel wealth to Rome and Roman citizens.

    As a history of Rome, it misses out the first 750 years, and quite possibly the last 200 years or so. It’s a history of Rome from Augustus to Constantine. And the Roman world held together pretty well for 500 years before Augustus showed up as the first emperor.

    In some ways, when I’d finished reading it, it struck me as much more appropriate to America than the EU. America has been a Republic, much like Rome, complete with Senate and stuff, for 230 years. And now George W. Bush is starting to behave like an emperor. And Iraq or Vietnam might be regarded as equivalents of the Varian disaster.

    Anyway, has anyone read 72 Virgins? I got half way through it (I don’t read much fiction these days), and put it down, but thought afterwards that it was a book that in many ways predicted the London bombings before they happened. Which is a bit profound.

  73. I read the 72 virgins in the expectation of some sort déja vu discoveries .

    In a way I suppose the fictional terrorists were British born did realise,to some degree, my expectations.

  74. When I left off reading, the US president, the terrorists, and the MP on a bicycle had converged upon Parliament. What happened after that? And why was the MP so worried that his name would be appearing in a newspaper any day?

  75. How does the writing style translate to fiction? It works perfectly for nonfiction, but does it get self-indulgent or dry when it’s stuff he’s just making up? I mean, like NOT Tory policy…

  76. Awesome coolness: Greek shipbuilders are recreating the Argo!

    VOLOS, Greece (Reuters) – Shipbuilders in this small Greek port are struggling with handmade tools and methods used millennia ago to recreate the Argo, the legendary vessel of Jason and the Argonauts…Once the Argo is complete, citizens can volunteer to crew the 50-oar ship on Jason’s journey across the Aegean, through the Bosporus to the Black Sea and on to the coast of Georgia.

    They face an arduous test, rowing for 10 to 15 hours a day, Kourtis said. “I have no doubt about the ship. The question is whether the rowers will be able to find the strength needed to complete the journey,” he said.

  77. How does the writing style translate to fiction?

    Here’s a taster. Page 64. Any spelling mistakes my transcription error.

      The centre page feature was a tremendous why oh why piece by Sir Trevor Hutchinson, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph. Entitled ‘Our Shameful Surrender to Terror’, it dilated on the various erosions of liberty entailed by the current obsession with security. Was it not outrageous, whinnied Sir Trev, that the Queen was being served with plastic cutlery, aboard the royal flight, all these years after 9/11? He gave a vigorous description of the Metropolitan Police Maginot Line around the Palace of Westminster. He railed against the frogmen in the Thames, the boom that had been constructed across the river, to protect the Commons Terrace from a riparian boarding party, the glass barrier in the chamber, that shielded the elctors from their representatives, or vice versa, for the first time in our island story. And then he related his almost insane irritation, when boarding a flight from Heathrow to Inverness to fulfil an important shooting engagement, at being asked to produce his passport. There being 300 words to supply after this opening lungful, Sir Trev went on to deplore the general phobia of risk in today’s namby-pamby society, alighting on such diverse themes as the near cancellation, on insurance grounds, of the climactic firework display at the Henley Regatta, and the use of cup-holders and – splutterissimo – air-bags in the new American tanks which the army, in defiance of his advice, was on the verge of buying.

      ‘Good stuff, good stuff,’ chuckled Adam, who had written his own share of bilge in his time.

  78. Wow, it’s almost as if he knows what that’s like. Amazing!

    And, scrolling through, I see that I never said a proper “Thank you” for the book. So first, I apologize for my lateness (a quality rarely found in a writer) and second I thank Melissa for sending me the book, and third I thank Boris for writing it. It was a great read.

    And fourth, I thank idlex for the snippet. Very informative.

    BTW was in chat today with a woman from Australia, and she gave me quite a lecture about this fish sauce the Romans used. That book/show has gotten around.

  79. I had dinner with a well known home cook in Naples last year,and asked her about colatura.She showed me a little ceramic crock with a spigot that was full of anchovies and salt,weighted down.After a few months,she extracts the liquid that is pressed and extracted from the fish-and gets and unrefined liquid[garum].I would guess that a fine straining of the liquid yields the more refined result[colatura],often combined in a jar with oregano or thyme…

    That’s a direct descendant of garum, post stolen from eGullet.com. And if that’s not enough, here is an authentic scholarly paper on the subject. As with all scholarly papers, it’s a PDF because academics are bloody control freaks who enjoy freezing my computer. Not that I resent the losers for it. It may well be in The Dream of Rome’s bibliography, but the fact is I put the book away and now cannot find the bloody thing.

  80. Raincoaster, it’s under that pile of stuff in your hallway – your laundry!

  81. I think Mr Boris Johnson very fine man, I don’t care what he been up to with ladys. This book is work of genius for person like me in HK. Please come back to China and tell truth.

  82. Not when you consider the amount of cash being creamed off by some MPs in the form of expenses (apart from their salaries and fees for after-dinner speeches, tedious television appearances and the repetitive, writing-by-numbers weekly column). Nice gravy train, if you can catch it…

  83. Only the LAST THIRD is written by the numbers. The first two-thirds are the sort of charming rambles tourists in the Lake country pay good money for.

    C’mon, be fair.

  84. Let’s be honest, though – it’s the same sort of ramble every week, like being taken out through the same lovely bit of countryside over and over again. Great the first time, perhaps, amusing the second and third, possibly. But yo, it’s May 2006 – are we living in Groundhog Day?

  85. In Tory England, though, nothing ever changes. It’s like Neverland! Who ever gets tired of reading Chesterton, really?

    The policy position is that things are bad now because things changed. So if you’re looking for a revolutionary firebrand, perhaps Conservatives are not the best place to start. At least the Americans used to be passionate about their conservatism; apoplectic, slavering, and spittle-spewing, but undeniably passionate. They, also, were wrong.

    As a lefty, I welcome the complacency, the nostalgia, the folded hands and the thoughtful “Hmmmmm,” because it makes them so much easier to work around.

  86. Don’t be fooled by the nostalgia and the folded hands. They are Thatcher’s children, and she wrought untold damage on revered British traditions (gosh, even our beautiful red telephone boxes went up in smoke because of the privatised British Telecom…; and if you want to look for where Presidential-style rule entered the homely British political scene look no further than that whisky-swilling old loon.) No, they masquerade under bogus self-deprecation (who am I thinking of? They are his own words and used to describe himself, funnily enough)and cuddly tweed-jacketed parpings about the past. But they are ruthless in the pursuit of power and to be treated with the greatest of care…

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