To declare an interest: for some years now I have been writing an occasional column in The Spectator, the aim of which is to throw ancient light on modern problems. What constantly strikes me is that, while our problems are frequently the same, the way the ancients approached them was very different. Ferdinand Mount, as he firmly emphasises in his introduction, finds himself impressed by the evidence for the opposite position, stating ‘how much we are like [the Greeks and the Romans], how in so many ways, large and small, trivial and profound, we are them and they are us’. It would not take an intellect of Aristotelian dimensions to foresee that I will broadly disagree.
Mount’s formulation of the thesis pinpoints the problem. ‘Greeks and Romans’ span for us the historical (as opposed to pre-historical) period of roughly 1400 BC to AD 500. If you had said to a Roman that he was a Greek, he would have thought you deranged. How we,