Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

No one yet has the remotest idea what the Big Society actually is. Had you asked a Roman, he would have told you: it was the rich spreading their largesse among the poor, as Pliny the Younger did (c. ad 61-112).

In a letter to his friend, the great Roman historian Tacitus, Pliny describes a project he has set up which he wants Tacitus to support. He says, 'I was visiting my native town a short time ago when the young son of a fellow-citizen came to pay his respects to me. "Do you go to school?" I asked. "Yes, " he replied. "Where?" "In Milan." "Why not here?" To this the boy's father (who had brought him and was standing by) replied: "Because we have no teachers here." ' Pliny is shocked and determined to do something about it. He points out to the father the importance of raising children at home (strict upbringing, less expense) and invites him to work out how much it would cost to hire teachers for the town, remembering that they could add in the money they currently spent on travel and lodgings in Milan.

Now comes the offer: Pliny is ready to contribute a third of whatever they decided to collect. …

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