Tuesday 10 February 2015

As Daily life in Ancient Rome by Jérôme Carcopino came out of the padded envelope, a Peregrine Book from 1964 with a school stamp on the flyleaf, thumbed and respected (the glue was so much better than, and the paper), the text in Monotype Bembo, I smiled. The author's photograph on the inside cover shows a genial white-haired Frenchman captured in mid-phrase, fellow-traveller of the man who taught me A level Latin, Mr Berridge, in his chalk-dusty black robe, with a polio limp and so much to enjoy in any language: he leaned back as he wooed us with Horace and Vergil. Into each school life just enough foreign land.

I preferred the baths to the battles, the Latin to the emperors. I didn't know Greek but was glad to see it there on the page; I deciphered by the letter. The Greeks are a race of people on clean warm islands and isthmuses with blue seas and skies, elegant shadows, behind them only myth. The Romans are busier, sweatier, closer to the Common Era in which we subsist. Thermae is a Greek word with an entirely Roman meaning.
The baths are one of the fairest creations of the Roman Empire. They not only benefited civilization, after their fashion, but also served art, which has been permanently enriched by monuments whose spaciousness, proportions, and technical perfection command our profound admiration even in their decay.
In the Spa Experience during the Late Common Era you pay so much you deserve to get a whole new identity. 
This was not all: this imposing group of buildings was surrounded by an esplanade, cooled by shade and paling fountains, which gave space for playing grounds and was enclosed by a continuous covered promenade (the xystus). Behind the xystus curved the exedrae of the gymnasiums and the sitting-rooms, the libraries, and the exhibition halls. This was the truly original feature of the thermae. Here the alliance between physical culture and intellectual curiosity became thoroughly Romanized.
History is what you do in the day. Kaspar Hauser in Herzog's film tells the story of getting to the city, but he doesn't know what happened after that.

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