Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

LORD Tebbit states that a country must be culturally united or it will disintegrate, and defines cultural unity as having one language, one standard of ethics and one history. On what evidence?

Ancient Greeks, as Herodotus made the Athenians say, thought of unity in terms of common language and customs but also of common `blood and temples and rituals'. Religion, Lord Tebbit? Blood?

Ancient Rome was a teeming, cosmopolitan city of a million people from all over the Mediterranean: citizen and non-citizen, slave and free, rich and poor, Greek, Jew and every other identity imaginable. The unsystematic mix of peoples living there can best be illustrated by the fact that the main language of the common people of Rome was not even Latin, it was Greek, since Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean. That is why the gospels were written in Greek and the liturgy of the early Christian Church at Rome was in Greek. Even when the liturgy became Latin in the 4th century AD, Greek elements remained ('Kurie eleison, Christe eleison', `Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy'). So, not one language, Lord Tebbit.

When the Emperor Claudius in AD 48 was trying to introduce Gallic chieftains into the Senate, Roman Tebbiti (as Tacitus reports) had a field day: `Are we going to pot? …

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