A new history of Rome

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see analogies between our current situation and ancient Rome.  In a recent NPR interview, Anthony Everitt, who has written biographies of Cicero, Augustus, and Hadrian, explains his fascination with that time period:  “I love stories and I love characters.  And the thing about the ancient world, it is crammed, it is packed with [the] most interesting and eccentric and brave and villainous characters of all kinds.”

Everitt was on NPR to discuss his new history of Rome, The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire.  http://www.npr.org/2012/08/05/157668413/a-story-of-ancient-power-in-the-rise-of-rome

In the interview, Everitt brings a 21st century sensibility to bear a past that has shaped us even more than we may know.  Our founding fathers, for instance, poured over the constitution of the The Roman Republic.  And here is what Everitt says about why the Republic failed, to be replaced with a military autocracy:

“The people who governed the world suddenly lost the ability to govern themselves. There was bloodshed. … This collapse of the constitution and an unwillingness of political opponents to talk with each other, to do deals, to come up with agreements, however messy and provisional, that loss was a catastrophe for Rome. And the Republic, in fact, went up in flames.”

‘Nuff said about the relevance of this book, I think…

Michael Meade on Genius

We all know what genius means in the modern sense of the word:  people like Einstein, Shakespeare, Leonardo, and Beethoven.  As far as I know, the image of the solitary genius, often suffering and at odds with the culture, is an artifact of the romantic era.  The word and original concept came from Rome, where it meant something else.

“In ancient Roman religion, the genius was the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing.  The rational powers and abilities of each and every human being were attributed to his soul, which was a genius.” Wikipedia.  

The Three Graces – Pompeii fresco

In his blog on the Huffington post, Michael Meade has started a series on genius that delves into this classical meaning. Meade says:

“Genius involves deeply subjective qualities and an inner pattern that marks each person as unique in some way and genius tries to leave that mark on the world. Since the genius in a person is ageless it can awaken at almost any age.”

He then adds,

“An old Greek word for happiness translates as having a satisfied genius. Recognizing and following the promptings of one’s inner-genius can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of life even if all else has been reduced to garbage and scraps.”

Michael Meade

In these terms, genius has little to do with most of our cultural assumptions about the word, like IQ, conventional success, or 15 minutes of fame.  It is more like what we mean when we speak of “marching to one’s own drummer.”

I invite everyone to read Meade’s post and watch for the next in his series which will focus on “the genius zone.”