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Daily Life in Ancient Rome
Modern Life vs. Roman Life
This article on daily life in ancient Rome deals with several subjects within the concept of individual and social values.
Pete Maida's story titled Flowers for Anna encouraged me to think about present reality as opposed to the principle-oriented lifestyle of our Roman precursors. His meaningful story about an elderly man, called Tim sticking to the values by which he has lived his life, inspired me to pose the questions to myself 'Is our society the product of ages of subversion? Was the old world better in any way, and if so, how have we come to this present state?'
I did the research on Roman life and my article is loaded with findings that justify my initial fears about the sad fact that there is a huge contrast between how we scrape along in our daily lives and how we might want to live should we know the difference.
My model will be the era of ancient Rome picturing a heroic and sacred worldcharacterized by astrict ethos, love of discipline and of virile and dominating spiritual attitude towards life, all contributing to the birth of what I will call the Roman Spirit.
Roman Life by the Virtues of Honor and Discipline
Should those pursuing the common values of today's world meet face-to-face with the Romans of the heroic period, their contempt for the latter's discipline, honor, hierarchy, straightforwardness and anonymous and anti-exhibitionist virilitywould be tangible; and the Romans, they would avert their eyes from them.
My point here is best illustrated by an ancient heroic saga that contains a very characteristic episode,
A prince who have been invited to the court of King Etzel was warned that a trap was probably being set for him. That prince replied: "I will go anyway, and if that is true, that is too bad for King Etzel.
What he meant was that he could have lost his life, but Etzel would have lost his honor. Now what does this have to say to today's mentality by which one able to mislead and deceive others enjoys a higher standing?
Living up to the Virtues of Roman Life
The one thing that would immediately mark you out in early Roman society as one having just arrived from the future is a kind of suspicious character with chaotic inclinations, weaknesses, and false values.
In my opinion, we all oscillate between two poles representing the dominant features of Roman life and modern-day living. This gives us hope, because true values always have to be dredged from somewhere within. We just need to do a workout on them both on an individual and social level maturing an inner decision that would put us back on the right track.
We need a revolution! Did you know that originally the word 'revolution' did not mean a switch to a new system by way of an insurrection destroying everything in its wake, but rather a change in thinking and action that returns life to a path from which it strayed, a path of dignity, and righteousness.
The original Latin word 're volvere' refers to a motion that directs something back to the starting point, to its origin. How do we do this? It's crucial to fully grasp what I mean by the Roman Spirit.
Values of Ancient Roman Life
Let's take our time to unravel anything that we might find obscure. A group of typical dispositions characterized the Roman Spirit. Self-control, bold action, a concise speech, coherent conduct and a cold dominating attitude, exempt form personalism and vanity were not to be sacrificed for a compromise, because once one lost these they wouldn't be in any position to help any good cause or exhibit a good example, or so the Romans believed.
In Rome, Virtus in the sense of virile spirit and courage, fortitudo and constantia as spiritual strength, sapientia in the sense of thoughtful awareness, disciplina as love for law given to oneself and form given to one's action, fides as loyalty and faithfullness, dignitas and gravitas and solemnitas namely a moderate studied seriousness, religio and pietas and signifying an attitude of respect for divinity as a collective historical force were just the banal minutiae of ancient Roman life.
"Act deliberately but without grand gestures. Live with a sense of realism that is not materialism, but love for the essential. Live with the ideal of clarity, an inner equilibrium and a healthy suspicion for any confused form of mysticism. Develop a love for boundaries, a readiness to unite for the greater good as a free being without losing your identity."
These were the words of Flavius before he cast himself into the tumults of battle, in which he slew dozens of barbarians alone before he himself fell. He refilled his cohort with spirit and strength of will to win a battle that was seemingly already lost by an act called Devotio, an act by which the greatest Roman generals set an example of self-sacrifice for the greater good.
Virtus, Virtue of Roman Life
A closer look at Virtus (Virtue)
This specific virtue carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth(perceived masculine strengths, which may indicate its derivation from vir, "man" as in virility).
Virtus was an often emphasized virtue of Roman Emperors, and was personified as a deity. Virtus could be divided into many qualities such as prudentia (prudence), iustitia (justice), temperantia (self-control), and fortitudo (courage). Possessing virtus meant that a person was a brave warrior but it could also mean that he was a good man.
In ancient Rome, virtus did not have any sort of sexual connotation, aslo there was little place for virtus in family life. To see why, let's quote wikipedia,
"In the Roman world the oldest living patriarch of the family was called the pater familias and this title inferred that he was able to make all legal and binding decisions for the family; he also owned all the money, land, and other property. His wife, daughters, sons, and his sons’ family were all under his potestas.
The only time a son was seen as separate from his fathers control in the eyes of other Romans was when he assumed his public identity as a citizen. He could earn his virtus by serving in the military, and thus could only demonstrate their manliness outside of the family setting."
Finding Guidance is Easy
By no means do I suggest that all Roman men and women were like the ones described above. This would be ridiculous. This is rather an ideal that embodied within itself the best people, and leaders, of the time just like we are under the influence of the values of our time inflicted on us by the mass media.
Look to the people you respect and hold in high esteem, look at how they live and act on a daily basis, because if only a certain social stratum can embody these qualities, it must still suffice. We don't have anything else any more.
Pay little attention to the leaders and politicians, because they can never attain such power over us as we have over ourselves when we look to the heroes and heroines of our own lives for guidance.
Qualities missing from Roman Life
Having looked at the qualities we might want to strive to attain in ourselves we also need to identify the ones we have to eliminate from our lives.
Modern man has somehow come to believe that appearing to be someone is just about enough to make our stand in the world. This ill-conceived notion in turn led to the obscureness and unreliability of human character. With their love for outward appearances and grand gestures modern man needs a stage not only for the sake of vanity and exhibitionism, but because even for noble and sincere deeds they draw their motivation from their concern to be noticed by others and make an impact on them.
We can see a split personality where one half plays a role and the other looks at this play from the perspective of a possible observer and examines if it makes the right impact. Actors should do this, but not common people.
Qualities of Roman Life
There is an ancient Roman proverb, which is the direct antithesis of our attitudes today. "Esse haberi non," that is, "to be and not to appear." Roman lifestyle was monumental and monolithic in contrast to our modern style, which is choreographic-theatrical and spectacular relating to and deriving from the French notion of grandeur and gloire.
Someone once described the race of Rome as sober, austere, active and free, endowed with a calm awareness of one's dignity; and based this description on the Roman features of having a sense of what one stands for and of what one's values are without feeling the necessity of any external reference or reassurance and so being completely devoid ofcheap showmanship.
However, this kind of spirit is not exclusively Roman, but can also be found in many sources around the world such as in the works left to us by Chinese taoist philosophers like Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu and Lao Tzu. Chuang Tzu wrote:
"In the age when nothing was missing from life on Earth, no one paid any attention to virtuous people and the talented did not rise above the others. Leaders were simply like the highest branches of trees and common men like deers in the woods.
They were considerate and righteous without consciously doing their duty. They loved each other without knowing this was love for one's half brethren. They did not deceive others and yet did not know they were trustworthy. They were honorable without having heard about good conscience.
They lived free, they gave and were given without knowing about generosity. So no one sings about their deeds."
First Signs of Degeneration
Another negative characteristic of the modern man is their tendency towards restless, undisciplined individualism. We can see the first results of the appearance of this trait most clearly in medieval Italy that degenerated intoparticularism, factions, struggles and rivalries.
Considering the splendour of Italian Renaissance we still cannot help but realize that here the author, rather than their work, is at center stage. But it doesn't stop there. Even lower we find a brand new type, who is always critical and ready to uphold an opposite thesis regardless of the subject itself in order to make a show of himself, to appear very smart in finding ways to get around an obstacle and in eluding a law.
Even lower there is the shrewd maliciousness, that is, the ability to fool others at any time one wants, which modern man considers an equivalent of intelligence, instead of a betrayal of one's own dignity.
The Roman Spirit, on the other hand, embodies a different attitude, which is best expressed by the proverb, "Pobrepalabras pero in obras largo" meaning "Poor of words but rich in deeds." or Moltke's characterization, "Talk little, do much and be more than you appear to be."
More Signs of Degeneration
A few more characteristics of modern man that I think are negative are
- an explosive and changeable temperament, which owes its temporal highs and lows to circumstances, causing us to once appear as cheerful, enthusiastic and optimistic individuals and the next feel a sudden onslaught of psychological lows, helplessness and inner insecurities, anxiety about solitude that in turn force us to return to exteriority, noisy social interaction and passionateness, as opposed to a kind of inner equilibrium and a sense of measure;
- sentimentality as opposed to true feelings;
- the insincere show-off style of self-expression as opposed to simplicity and sincerity;
- the turning of sex and women into an obsession as opposed to assigning to them their rightful place in life.
The Way Out
Unless we find the inspiration to take our lives in our own hands, the key roles will always be played by political myths as a galvanizing idea-force. Therefore we need to look to the heroes of everyday life who can take us down new pathways or rather towards a revolutionary way of life transcended by these ancient principles as they set a positive example.
In ancient Rome life, thought had no value within itself, but action was sacred, because it was the manifestation of the Roman Spirit.
Here at Hubpages, I do find a shelter where I encounter only kindness of heart. So thanks for exhibiting a way more positive attitude than that which I sometimes experience in other areas of my life.
Thanks for reading, folks. It was fun preaching before the masses. :)