The Romans always win until they don’t

One of the most fascinating inscriptions from ancient Rome is the so-called ‘Hisma inscription’. Written in Greek by someone named ‘Lauricius’ in probably the late 2nd century AD, it proclaims that: ‘The Romans always win’. The sandstone slab was found in South Jordan, in Roman Arabia, on the edge of the Empire. The Romans keptContinue reading “The Romans always win until they don’t”

A catalogue of Cassandras

Do you remember Cassandra, the prophetess of the ancient sad countenance who possessed the gift of true prophecy but could never be believed? She was reportedly murdered by Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra along with her husband, but the truth is that she’s still alive. The rumour has it that she married the boy who cried wolfContinue reading “A catalogue of Cassandras”

Have you ever tried Dante-dating?

Let’s be clear about this. I’m talking about Dante-dating, not dating Dante. However brilliant the poet was, I have my doubts the average man would have liked him – or that the average woman would have dated him. Yes, he’d write you some beautiful sonnets, he’d even make you famous for 700 years (and counting),Continue reading “Have you ever tried Dante-dating?”

Wooden myths last forever

I just love it when myths come back to bite us (in the ass), like Sartre’s annoying flies. Most cultural artefacts do not originate in fact, but in mythology, which is not to say fiction. And myths keep coming back, they are more resilient than any stone foundations. Long after the last ruins have fadedContinue reading “Wooden myths last forever”

Judging a book by its covers

Don’t judge a book by its covers, they say. The inside is what counts, they say. The advertising community is not so sure. The cover design is said to increase the marketability of a book by 50%, by a conservative estimate, and by as much as 80% in some cases. Which means that while weContinue reading “Judging a book by its covers”

The enduring charm of hybridity

In at least one respect, we’re not too far away from the Middle Ages, and that’s in our cultural bend towards hybridity. I’m not taking about hybrid cars, or maybe I am. One question historians very rarely ask is: what’s in a hybrid? Sure, the word is familiar enough, and it conjures up images rangingContinue reading “The enduring charm of hybridity”

To put the pan in the demic

I’ve noticed that the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘epidemic’ have recently been used interchangeably in the media and in everyday speech. Any extensive outburst of a contagious disease is a pandemic or an epidemic, depending on which prefix you prefer or comes to mind first. Pandemic sounds a bit more catastrophic, while epidemic has a scientific,Continue reading “To put the pan in the demic”

A different kind of tourism

It is often said that the origins of modern tourism go back to the medieval European pilgrimage. Many people travelled in the Middle Ages, but out of all the eligible categories, the pilgrim is often singled out as the ancestor of the tourist and holidaymaker. Not the warrior, not the merchant, not the itinerant student,Continue reading “A different kind of tourism”

Dea Febris

Every age and every culture has its own way to respond to viral diseases, plagues and epidemics. While we have medicine, technology and social services, the ancient Romans had Dea Febris, the goddess of fever, the protector against malaria and other infectious diseases, though by no means the only one. According to one theory, FebrisContinue reading “Dea Febris”

Pseudonyms and fake news

Despite speculation and hard-headed scrutiny, nobody knows who the person behind the hyper-famous name ‘Elena Ferrante’ is. We might never find out. The French writer Romain Gary received the Goncourt Prize twice, once for a book written under his own name, the other for a book written under the pseudonym ‘Emile Ajar’. Nobody suspected anythingContinue reading “Pseudonyms and fake news”