Posts Tagged ‘Jerome Carcopino’

Comparative Literature

Posted in General on August 29th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments
      So what books have I been reading lately?  Roman history, American history, Australian history and…for a change of pace…Roman sociology.  From the histories I’ve learned that the young Augustus was a real creep, there was only one way that the British could have lost the Battle of New Orleans–but they found it, and the colonization of Australia was a horror but still better than staying in England. 
    That leaves us with Roman sociology…and today’s topic: updating history by degrading it.  As I opened “A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome”, the author Alberto Angela warned me that if I had any intelligence or self-respect I would be reading “Daily Life in Ancient Rome” instead.  The latter book, by Jerome Carcopino, is regarded as a classic.  I happen to have it, so I was able to compare the two texts. 
   Carcopino was a professor; Angela is a television host.  That might explain the difference in their styles, and their expectations of the reader’s attention span.  Carcopino’s book, written in 1940, is 342 pages and divided into nine chapters.  Angela’s book, fresh from the publisher in 2009, is 380 pages and divided into 55 chapters.  Now, with Angela’s extra 38 pages, what does today’s reader learn?  Apparently, Carcopino was unaware that the Romans had bodily functions or sexual interests; but Angela is eager to fill in the details.
   In discussing ancient Rome, it is hard for Angela to avoid some reference to history; but that doesn’t mean he has to be accurate.  I was particularly impressed when Angela referred to a section of the Roman Forum where the Emperor Marcus Aurelius delivered his famous funeral oration for Julius Caesar.  The oration would have been especially notable since Julius Caesar had died two centuries earlier; but being a Stoic philosopher Aurelius might have been oblivious to punctuality.  The notoriously un-Stoic Marc Antony had also delivered a funeral oration for Caesar, and that actually coincided with Caesar’s funeral.  Is it possible that an Italian would confuse Marcus Aurelius (121-180) with Marc Antony (83–30 B.C.)?  To put it in a Hollywood context, that would be like mistaking Alec Guinness for Richard Burton.
(And yes, you can compare Marcus Aurelius to Obi-Wan Kenobe.  Both were warrior philosophers.  The major difference was that Aurelius left the empire to his idiot son Commodus; at least Obi-Wan was not the father of Jar Jar Binks.)
   By this time, you may have discerned that I prefer Carcopino to Angela.    As a historian, definitely; but as a person, NO.  A year after the publication of his classic, Carcopino was named France’s Minister of Education and Youth.  It would have been quite an honor for the Corsican-born Professor except that particular government is not remembered for any honor.  Carcopino was a Minister in the Vichy government.  Well, Fascist is derived from a Latin word.  In his two years as the Minister of Education and Youth, he initiated one particularly unique policy.
Time Magazine:  September 15, 1941
> Vichy’s Secretary of State for Education Jérôme Carcopino announced the abolition of free high-school education. This measure, in effect ending high-schooling for the French poor, he defended on the ground that the masses of poor children had made classes unwieldy, that the rich had got free schooling at the State’s expense. By way of compensation to the poor, he said that the number of State scholarships would be increased. He also implied that hereafter history-class attention would be concentrated on periods before the freedom-spreading French Revolution.
   So the erudite Professor Carcopino would have enforced stupidity.  The fatuous Angela merely wants to share it.
(After the War, Carcopino talked his way out of any punishment and enjoyed some semblance of respectability until his death in 1970.)