Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Top Of My Head, Part V - The Lesson Of The Julio-Claudians

And so the first part of this series of essays draws to a grateful end, with the Julio-Claudians and their crappy ways soon to be despatched to the memory hole, just before I reach for the antiseptic handwash.

With one possible exception, that of poor, insane Caligula, they behaved in the way they did because they wanted to. They weren't very nice people, they knew what they were doing and they didn't mind behaving in particularly unpleasant ways. That is the bottom line about them all - as we say in Glasgow, they were a bunch of bad bastards, none of whom would have had the slightest difficulty fitting in with any group of modern bad bastards from people trafficking gangs to the pop music industry.

I had some other, desperately clever, neurologically oriented things to say sorted out in my head, but I think I'll leave it at that - with one afterthought. 

In the second book of his 'Confessions', St. Augustine wrote a remarkably robust critique of liberal education. In his youth, schools were really just shop fronts with veils drawn across the doors. Having later been a very distinguished teacher of rhetoric himself, St. Augustine's memories of that type of education were not fond. He described such schools as claiming to provide an education when in fact they were initiating their students in sin by teaching them of the lusts of fictional Greek gods. 

When one considers how many disturbed people seem to have been churned out by an English public school system that focussed almost exclusively on the teaching of classics for over a century, it is very easy to see the wisdom of St. Augustine's words. All education in the liberal arts, including the classics, must be conducted within a particularly firm moral context. If it is not, the teacher runs the risk of allowing the pupil to fall into moral dangers such as believing any member of the Julio-Claudian freakshow to have been in any way admirable. They were not. They were bad bastards, and good riddance to them.

Tomorrow's essays will push the timeframe forward over 1500 years. The first will concern a big man with big problems, the second a fondly remembered pixie of our own era. 

And I can assure you that it will all be in the best possible taste.

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