Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I'm almost done reading a book called Are We Rome? by Cullen Murphy. When I'm finished, I'll probably post a review here (somehow, I doubt any other editor will be quite as sympathetic as Fr. Hollywood). Are We Rome? is an intriguing read, even though the author is obviously biased to the left (though not obnoxiously or rabidly so). The United States has a great resemblance to the Imperium Romanum - in some ways more obvious than others.

Mrs. Hollywood and I are reading the book aloud - which slows down the reading, allows the wordplay and alliteration of the author to come to life, and gives time for the mind to savor, chew thoroughly, and ingest without causing heartburn or (perhaps even worse) resulting in a read so hasty as to lose the flavor.

Anyway, the book is an eye-opener in some very amusing ways.

Thinking about the book pointed out some real irony (of which, as y'all know, I am a big fan) that you can see on a day to day basis (or should I say, on a quotidian basis?).

On a lark, I drove (actually drove, for goodness' sake!) to the pizza shop (can you just hear a certain Nobel Prize winner's tongue clicking all the way from his charter flight back from Oslo?). Using a stylus, I clicked on an MP3 file in my Palm of an audio recording of Capitulum Quintum (that's "Chapter V" for the Latin-impaired, "Chapter 5" for those who are hooked on Arabic Numbers) of the Latin textbook I'm teaching my junior high students: Lingua Latina per se Illustrata by Hans Oerberg. I'm tooling down the road with the author reading a description of a Roman villa in the original language, when it dawns on me where I'm headed: Little Caesar's. Ha!

I walk into the taberna wearing a crucifix that has the word "Roma" on the back (where it was made) as well as the words "via crucis" inscribed beneath tiny icons of the Stations of the Cross.

On the way back, I stop in at a gas station to pick up some soft drinks. Inside, I hear not the lingua franca of our vast multicultural nation, but rather the dialect of Latin spoken by the barbari who work inside our borders looking for prosperity and taking jobs our own citizens will not take - at least not at Barbarian wages. These are not Germanic people: Franks and Gauls from north of the rivers Rhine and Danube who stand in contrast to the Latin culture of their reluctant host country, but rather these Latin immigrants come from the south of a border likewise formed by a river: foreigners who stand in contrast to their wealthy neighbors who speak a Germanic tongue. And though the Germanic and the Latin have swapped roles, the motivations and many of the results are very similar.

Because of the large number of barbari, the American markets for goods and services has changed. Domestic Coca Cola, by virtue of federal politics, no longer has cane sugar - but is rather sweetened by the high fructose corn syrup grown by agri cultura in the heartland of the imperium. It just doesn't taste as good as the real thing (another irony) which is only available outside of the United States.

So, by virtue of the demands of the barbari, it is easy to find mercatores who sell the imported Coke preferred by the itinerant workers, who in spite of their tastes in soft drinks, who desire to one day boast: "Civis Americanus sum!" [Nota bene: In case anyone is offended at my use of the word "Barbarian" - being a "Barbarian-American" myself, I am free to use "The b-word".]

I paid for my Coca Cola using a debit card (instead of currency bearing such words as "novus ordo seclorum" and "e pluribus unum" and depicting images of things like eagles and fasces and the edifice where the "Senate" carries out the business of the "republic" (cough).

Just as I explain to my students that the Latin language never died - rather it evolved into several modern languages spoken around the globe and continues to be studied even in its primitive form the world over - I'm forced to ask the same question as Cullen Murphy:

"Did Rome ever fall?"

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