Mary Beard’s book on Roman History is terrific. SPQR is the famous Roman catchphrase Senatus Populus Que Romanus or The Senate and People of Rome. If you know anything about Mary Beard (perhaps via BBC specials) you know this Cambridge professor is as feisty as she is brilliant. Her writing is magnificent. She knows how to tell the stories of ancient Rome in a way that are accessible and entertaining.
Some who are able to spin a good yarn are not careful with the details. Beard goes no further than the evidence will allow for telling this story. In other words, she does not traffic in speculation or try to fill in details we would love to have, but simply do not.
She does include details that make the story interesting throughout, but these are details we can be pretty confident of. For example, did you know that ancient Rome had one million inhabitants and that no city would have that many people until the nineteenth century?
Ancient Roman history is extremely relevant to the hurly-burly of twenty-first century America.
I recently read Allen Guelzo’s terrific new history of the Civil War, Fateful Lightning.
Guelzo describes how restless Lincoln was for more responsibility. Others around him, even early on with his law practice, commented on Lincoln’s ambition. It was sobering to read of Lincoln’s ambition in the 1850’s for the next decade would obviously find him with more responsibility than he could ever imagine.
If you are ambitious for more influence, that is not necessarily a bad thing. God hard-wired us for making a difference, but we must be ever so careful. Being ambitious for God’s glory and kingdom is one thing. Being ambitious to “make a name for ourselves” is no less sinister than those in Babel who wanted to do the same thing.
Remember God’s words to Baruch, “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”
“We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.”
The rest is here (HT: My sister Lisa)
(I once was what you are and what I am you also will be). This memento mori underlines that the painting was intended to serve as a lesson to the viewers. At the simplest level the imagery must have suggested to the 15th-century faithful that, since they all would die, only their faith in the Trinity and Christ’s sacrifice would allow them to overcome their transitory existences.
According to American art historian Mary McCarthy:
The fresco, with its terrible logic, is like a proof in philosophy or mathematics, God the Father, with His unrelenting eyes, being the axiom from which everything else irrevocably flows.
Source: McCarthy, Mary (August 22, 1959). “A City of Stone”. The New Yorker. New York: 48.
HT: Tim Challies
Meditate on I Cor. 9;24-27, then read this short piece my son, David, sent me: