Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Greek in Rome

Sometimes I feel as once a Greek might have felt in Rome. That thought surfaced sharply when I read Lucio Russo’s The Forgotten Revolution (see this earlier post). The author makes the case there that the Romans had little use for pure science; their consuming interest was power. Yesterday the same thought surfaced when a Japanese student commented on one of my forays into Mathematics on LaMarotte, namely calculation of the log of numbers by hand. My reader sent me notes on how the Japanese calculate square roots by hand. Initially the graphic did not make complete sense to me, hence I attempted to fill in the blanks using Google—and failed on that attempt much as I’d failed earlier on logs. But then came inspiration. I put my question into German and let Google rip again. I instantly had four quite useful answers in that language. Later my Japanese correspondent sent me more materials, not least a link to a Japanese website that—like those in German—took on the question in order to educate its young and (in my case) the venerably old.

Europe and America. Greece and Rome. Genuinely cultivated Romans, to be sure, spoke Greek and valued Greek learning. But Rome, at least until it split in two, was the center of the world. Greek immigrants were everywhere—many of them slaves of course. As Europeans flocked to America—but not as slaves, thank the Lord. Superior culture to one side, superior power to the other. The Greek in Rome must have felt both—and also experienced the ambiguity of that. Odd how an ancient experience now has a modern parallel. And as the United States behaves ever more imperially, the more that feeling intensifies, at least in me. Once the “country of immigrants” made me feel at home; now alienation grows apace—even as I realize that after sixty years of residence I would be quite at a loss in the Old Country unless I quickly mastered Turkish.

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