Posts Tagged ‘luxury’

In this morning’s Grauniad, George Monbiot argues that the fundamental political decision of our age – not solely in Britain or Europe or the West, but across the globe – lies between “public luxury available to all, or private luxury available to some.” My immediate thought was of the famous lines in Cicero’s Pro Murena (76):

The Roman people hates private luxury, it esteems public munificence; it does not love lavish banquets, still less sordid behaviour and brutality; it recognises differences in services and circumstances, the interchange of work and pleasure.

I’ve no idea if this is a deliberate reference (Monbiot hasn’t responded to a query on the Twitter); rather like the “many not the few” line, it’s such a boilerplate contrast that the resemblances don’t necessarily mean anything. (more…)

Read Full Post »

The seminar text for my Roman History course over the last fortnight has been the opening of the third book of Varro’s Rerum Rusticarum, the convoluted argument about the nature of the ‘true’ villa and the disputed legitimacy of pastio villatica. It’s a great passage for opening up questions about the nature of the work – the unexpected use of dialogue in a supposedly practical handbook of agriculture, as a means of raising problematic ethical and political questions (ancient sock puppets!) without necessarily trying to resolve them – and about how Roman aristocrats thought about the world at the end of the first century BCE; in particular, how one negotiates tensions between inherited values (the ‘farmers are the best citizens and soldiers’ ideology offered by e.g. Cato, harking back to exemplary early Romans like Cincinnatus) and the realities of a globalised economy in which money pervades every area of society and politics. Pastio villatica – the raising of bees, birds, snails, dormice, game etc. in the vicinity of the villa – is good insofar as it’s productive (rather than the purely consumptive villas where the wealthy relax and show off their wealth), but it’s bad insofar as it’s intimately bound to the development of luxurious tastes in the city, founded on the corrupting influx of wealth from the acquisition of empire – and hence involves precisely the sort of risky pursuit of profit that Cato had condemned in merchants and money-lenders. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Part of the joy of holding any sort of position of academic leadership is the need to respond quickly and imaginatively to unexpected bits of randomness appearing out of a clear blue sky. This week it was our student newspaper publishing a story about whether arts students get value for money for their student fees; they’d acquired some figures from the university under a Freedom of Information request, and divided a total for teaching expenditure in each department by the student numbers, yielding a figure for ‘spend per head’ that could be compared with the standard £9000 fee. Not surprisingly, arts students were revealed by this calculation to be ‘subsidising’ scientists to the tune of many thousands of pounds per year – with one striking exception: Classics students appeared second in the table, just after Clinical Dentistry, apparently subsidised by everyone else by more than £6K pa.

Once we’d got over the hysterical giggling, it was imperative to work out what on earth was going on so as to demand a correction, in hope of preventing the appearance of an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob of disgruntled English and History students from marching on the department. (more…)

Read Full Post »