Peter Jones has done much to publicise and popularise the Classics – his easy-going introductions to Latin and Greek and his selection of passages from Ovid spring to mind, all of which have been marked by clarity, rigour and accessibility. Here he turns his attention to ‘the issues of today’: immigration, bent politicians, religion, the Olympic Games and so on. Anything that we can come up with, the ancients have already dealt with in a much more successful manner, seems to be Jones’s thesis. I am not sure how valid an exercise it is to try to solve complex political and social issues by reference to the Greeks and Romans. Leaving aside Louis MacNeice’s view (‘It was all so unimaginably different / And all so long ago’), there are just too many factors to consider.
Having said that, Jones does often argue persuasively that we should ape the ancients: with regard to ‘euergetism’, for example. This is public benefaction. Never before has London been awash with so much private money, and yet our institutions do not benefit from it. The Romans used to fall over