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June 17, 2002

Etymology
Posted by Teresa at 08:52 AM *

I’ve been enjoying reading Route 66 A.D.: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists by Tony Perrottet, thanks to Lucy Huntzinger who sent me a copy. It’s simultaneously a discussion of tourism in classical antiquity, and an account of a trip around the Mediterranean by the author and his pregnant wife as they attempt to follow the old travel guides and itineraries.

Naturally, they begin in Rome; but Perrottet finds the present version of Rome too mellow and graceful under its multiple layers of culture, history, and paint:

What made Ancient Rome unique as a city—what defined it to its inhabitants and the world—was its exhilarating extremes, its giddy combination of grandeur and squalor. It was exuberant, energetic, confronting, cosmopolitan, a volatile cocktail of wealth, penury, lust, and degradation. Modern Rome, by comparison, is like a soothing watercolor hanging in a dentist’s waiting room.

At some point I had to admit that on an imaginative level, Ancient Rome had less in common with modern Rome than with the more overpowering, rough-edged, and crass metropolis we’d just left behind: New York.

He then goes on to discuss the ways that NYC (he says he lives on Tenth, in the East Village) can be legitimately compared with the Rome of antiquity. I particularly liked this bit, where he’s discussing blood sports:
Any New York writer would be fascinated to learn that our word editor can be traced back to the Colosseum. The Latin editor was the head of a gladiatorial school, whose job it was to decide whether a wounded fighter should live or die. Lurking in the sidelines of the arena, the editor gave thumbs-up or -down on purely financial grounds—whether it was worth it to nurse the man back to health in the gladiatorial hospital, or to let him perish like a dog. (Just like Manhattan publishing!) But the role was too popular to leave to a minor figure. The life-and-death power was later given to the emperor—who, to curry favor, deferred to the masses.
I knew there was something we were missing.
Comments on Etymology:
#1 ::: Laurel Amberdine ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 02:50 PM:

Ack!

Great, here I am having a fit of writing anxiety. I think, "Hey, maybe I'll go read Teresa's weblog... yeah, that'll be nice" as I try desperately to avoid noticing the word processor waiting for me in the background.

And I find this awful etymology. :) Thanks a bunch. :p

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 03:11 PM:

It was a big hit around the office.

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