Thursday, February 12, 2009

Viva Itálica

The first trip I made out of Sevilla after arriving on January 4, 2009 was to Itálica, the first Roman colony in southern Spain.

Established in 206 BC, Rome was still a burgeoning empire. After defeating the famed Hannibal of Carthage, the Romans claimed rule over most of Iberia. Maybe you remember this bit of history, because it was the staging for Russell Crowe’s first appearance in the coliseum of Rome in Gladiator. (These days, it’s OK to admit that you really love that movie, no matter how well-read you are.) The story goes that veterans of this Second Punic War settled in Itálica, and the city rose up around them.

Interesting fact: did you know that Caesar, the original, was one of “the great fornicators [of] antiquity?”

It is but an eight kilometer bus ride from Seville (both spellings seem acceptable) to the ruins of this once great city and its impressive ampitheater, theater, and lovely mosaic floors which characterized the homes of wealthy Romans.

Walking among the ruins, you would believe that the city was carved out of the very Earth, so dense and rough-shod are the worn walls and tunnels. I love stone—“as God intended,” a friend once said—and prefer it to two-by-fours and dry wall. I announced suddenly that I wouldn’t mind to have lived during Roman times.

“I wouldn’t mind to have lived during Roman times,” I said, suddenly.

“Are you kidding,” said Dr. Inglis, the TTU Center site director. “As a historian, I love to look at it, but I don’t want any part of it. How old are you?” he asked.

I told him.

“See, if you had been a slave or a servant, you’d have been dead 15 years. If you had been rich, maybe 10 years ago, five if you’re lucky.”

Five or ten, what would it matter once you were dead? Anyhow, “Gee,” I said. “I get your point.”

We angled across the ampitheater floor and had a look into its underbelly, the passageways where gladiators and various wild beasts awaited pain and slaughter to delight the crowd. Then into one of the gateways and under the ancient grandstands. Here we admired the replica of the iron plate posted on the wall—the credo of the gladiator. Spock reminds us to “Live long and prosper,” but the message here is rather the opposite: your life is brief, and generally meaningless, so you might as well die valiantly to make the crowd happy.

Despite the dark reality of a short life, rich or poor, have you ever considered that the Roman’s got it right? In their day, the well-educated were the elite, and were likely wealthy. Professional athletes were slaves, and died for sport in the coliseum. (Except Russell Crowe, of course, bless his heart.)

Two thousand years later, professional athletes enjoy god-like status, and make millions, while over-educated teachers scratch a living out of shadows and dust. In fact, a sure route to poverty is to go to graduate school, evidenced by the extreme glut of out-of-work PhDs. Alas.

Does Tiger Woods deserve millions? Or your daughter’s third grade teacher? You decide.


  1. Your writing has inspired me and your thoughts are parallel to mine...

    I like the way you think!

  2. Too much money corrupts us, Caswell. I say let Tiger have the headaches. ;-)