Saturday, June 25, 2011

25th June 2011

A burning desire to come out on top is bred into the bone of every modern, as it was of every ancient, Greek. Now that the EU is publicly humiliating the country, no wonder there is revolution on the streets.

When Achilles went to Troy, his father ordered him ‘always to be best and superior to everyone else’. In another war, another Greek hero Amphiaraus ‘had no desire to be reputed the best: he wanted to be the best’. Victory at the Olympic Games, in the opinion of the poet Pindar, brought a man as close as it was possible to being a god on earth. But if Greeks cared very much indeed about winning, they cared even more about losing. But at least there was one compensation: if they failed, revenge was always at hand, and that was almost as sweet.

Romans felt exactly the same way. Lucius Caecilus Metellus founded one of the great noble houses of Rome and died in 221 bc. His son Quintus said of him at his funeral: ‘My father achieved the ten greatest and best things, which wise men spend their whole lives seeking. He wished to be the first of warriors, the best of orators, and the most valiant of commanders; to be in charge of the greatest affairs and held in the greatest honour; to possess supreme wisdom and be regarded as supreme in the Senate; to come to great wealth by honourable means; to leave many children; and to be the most distinguished person in the state. Since Rome was founded, none but he has achieved all this.’ Such intense desire for personal glory had its merits; but, like the Greeks, Romans too harboured a determination to get even if they felt themselves demeaned.

Brussels, happy to suspend the economic laws of gravity in its pan-European power grab, allowed the Greeks into the EU on an economic assessment that both knew perfectly well was a lie. Now the eurozone is paying the price. Come on, you Greeks: do you really want Brussels to win? Time for heroic self-sacrifice — or revenge. Destroy the eurozone, now. Brussels’ fantasy world has to collapse as some stage. You can earn some credit for it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18th 2011

The footballers Rooney and Giggsy are doing a Donald Trump and spending thousands of pounds on their bald patches. Poor darlings! But they are not alone. The topic was of such interest in Rome that the emperor Domitian even wrote a treatise on it. So too did Cleopatra.

The doctor Galen (c. AD 129-216) quotes from Cleopatra’ book on ‘Adornment’ as follows: ‘For bald patches, powder red sulphuret of arsenic and take it up with oak gum, as much as it will bear. Put on a rag and apply, having soaped the place well first. I have mixed the above with a foam of nitre, and it worked well.’ But you can do better than that, she goes on. ‘The following is the best of all, acting for fallen hairs, when applied with oil or pomatum; acts also for falling off of eyelashes or for people getting bald all over. It is wonderful. Of domestic mice burnt, one part; of vine rag burnt, one part; of horse’s teeth burnt, one part; of bear’s grease one; of deer’s marrow one; of reed bark one. To be pounded when dry, and mixed with plenty of honey till it gets the consistency of honey; then the bear’s grease and marrow to be mixed, the medicine to be put in a brass flask, and the bald part rubbed till it sprouts.’ Alas, it did not work for Julius Caesar, a notorious dandy who was very worried by his baldness, or perhaps he ignored his mistress’s advice. The problem was solved when the Senate allowed him to cover up by wearing a laurel wreath at all times.

The satirist Martial (AD 40-104) had great fun with barbers, of which Rome boasted a hatful. One he mocked for taking so long that a second beard grew before he had cut the first. As for the balding man artfully piling up curls on the top of his head, he pointed out, the wind soon blew them back, leaving the dome bald as ever, but now fringed with ringlets. What, he concluded, could be more repellent than a bald man covered in hair?

Trump that!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

28th May 2011

Legal distinctions

Abysmally incompetent as Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke was in attempting to describe some new thinking about the law of rape, it did not merit the outrage of those who argued that rape is rape is rape and that is the end of the question. But the law is all about distinctions.
Murder is murder is murder too, but it still has to be defined accurately and culpability assessed before justice can be done.

In 287 BC, the lêx Aquilia dealing with unlawful damage was passed in a Roman assembly. It was named after its proposer, the tribune Aquilius.
Its opening chapter referred to the unlawful killing of a ‘four-footed beast of the class of cattle’. What taxed the Roman jurist Gaius was the question: since ‘cattle’ covered cows and bulls but also other farm and domestic animals, which came under the rubric? Were sheep, goats, horses, mules and asses ‘classes of cattle’? Yes, he thought. What about pigs? Some jurists, he agreed, had wondered about pigs, but yes, he reckoned, they were too. What about dogs? No, he concluded — and even less so bears, lions and panthers. How about elephants and camels?
Tricky, that, he mused: wild they may be, but they are used as draught animals. Therefore, on balance, yes.

Having first, then, identified what was in that class, one could go on to questions of culpability and its relation to justification for and intentions involved in any action. Roman jurist were fascinated by this. What if someone carrying an excessive load, or who could not control a cart or horse through weakness or experience, killed another? Or someone who operated negligently on a slave? Yes, they would count under the lêx Aquilia. What if you annoyed a dog and it bit somebody? No, unless the person had a dog on a lead and caused it to bite someone. What if a lunatic caused damage? No. Or an infant? No, unless over seven, and able to distinguish right from wrong. And so on.

Clarke, an ex-barrister, was very properly trying to make distinctions. But if that was typical of his usual performances, no wonder he gave it up to go into something else.

4th June 2011

Helen Wood described in last week’s Spectator how she ‘escorted’ a wealthy footballer, Wayne Rooney. He applied for, and got, a super-injunction. So did she, and was refused. What is going on here? The Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes (384-322 bc) knew.

Helen Wood described in last week’s Spectator how she ‘escorted’ a wealthy footballer, Wayne Rooney. He applied for, and got, a super-injunction. So did she, and was refused. What is going on here? The Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes (384-322 bc) knew.

In 348 BC Demosthenes brought a case against a personal enemy, one Meidias, for punching him while on duty at a religious festival. Demosthenes did not argue on the grounds that this violated a ritual or even just himself. He saw a much larger issue at stake.

Meidias, he argued, confident in his contacts, wealth and reputation, had committed a crime that struck at the very heart of the safety, security and well-being of each and every citizen, whoever they were, rich or poor, great or small, footballers (had they had them then) or escorts; and if that sort of behaviour were ever to be passed over as unimportant, no one, whatever their status, would be safe.

For wrongful acts in violation of the laws were public acts against everyone. If the jurors agreed with him, he went on, ‘the instant this court rises, each of you will walk home, one quicker, another more leisurely, not anxious, not glancing behind him, not fearing whether he is going to run up against a friend or an enemy, a big man or a little one, a strong man or a weak one, or anything of that sort. And why? Because in his heart he knows, and is confident, and has learned to trust the state, that no one shall seize or insult or strike him.’

It is clear that the ‘super-injunction’ is a law for the rich and (in)famous and them alone, as if Wood’s reputation were somehow less valuable to her than Rooney’s to him, and in a case where both were sharing the same, legal, activity.

But on what legal grounds is the reputation of struggling proles less important than footballers’? Demosthenes was right. The Athenians knew that one rule for the rich, one for the poor, made nonsense of the law. One might have thought our judiciary would have noticed. Apparently not. Super-injunctions for all, please — or none.