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Posts Tagged ‘Varro’

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…)

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One of the most striking items in this morning’s newspaper was the fact that the only non-anonymous funder of the aggressive grouse-shooting lobby organisation You Forgot The Birds, hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, houses his chickens in a stone edifice modelled on a Greek temple (I missed this story when the plans were first identified via his local council’s planning department website).

Crispin-Odey-chicken-coop-008 (more…)

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As anyone who follows me on Twitter might have gathered, I’ve spent the last couple of days at a conference in Cambridge on (Re)approaching Roman Frugality, organised by Cristiano Viglietti; this is part of the explanation for the silence on this blog over the last month, as I went straight from a couple of weeks’ exhausted collapse and catching up on sleep over Christmas to hasty re-reading of Varro in order to pull together something more or less coherent on the theme. As often happens, I’d invented a title for the paper and scribbled a short abstract on the basis of limited thought and more or less no research – the conference theme appealed not because it was a topic I was working on but because it’s something that fits with possible future work – and it rapidly became clear that this was not one of my most successful bits of intellectual improvisation…

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