Not much has happened…in 2000 years

roman helmetLately I’ve been reading a lot about the Roman Empire, about their society, wars and culture that reigned Europe and parts of Africa and Asia for many centuries. Quite fascinating in many aspects, and even more so, when you think about that it all happened 2000 years ago.

Reading a book by Tore Janson about the values and life in Rome made me think about some parallels between then and now. I was reading about Juvenal, an author who lived around the year 100 and wrote satires. The satires were mainly about daily life in Rome, about habits, manners and customs and things that happened. The angle was often the moral downfall of the romans and how different groups of people demoralized the society, like women for example. A rather conservative, grumpy guy and I think you can imagine the type.

One satire was about a different place, though. He wrote about a far-away place in Egypt where two nearby villages was quarreling about some religious matter and went out in the streets and threw stones and sticks at each other. During that brawl one man died whereas the opposing gang ripped his body apart and ate him!

An invented story, of course, but why? Well he didn’t like easterners at all, which he ranted a lot about and to connect them with the most outrageous moral crime of all was a way of making them as small and different from “real humans” as possible. But the main reason for this disgust of eastern foreigners he wrote about quite openly: he disliked that the greeks, the jews, the egyptians and others came to Rome and did good. He thought that they made fortunes, careers and good names for themselves at the expense of “honest Romans”, hence his fear of easterners.

It’s easy to recognize these days in Europe, isn’t it? The fear of foreigners coming to your country leads to picking up some fearful happenings, habits or religous ideas and putting them in the hands of the immigrants, while exaggerating the problems with the immigrants in the home country, spreading more fear.

The fear seems to be about these problems, people living in ghettos parasiting the society, criminals and terrorism. But I do believe that the real fear isn’t about that at all, those stories are just a tool. It’s really about the same fear as Juvenal had, that the foreigners will do better than you, that they will be the ones that do something good for the society, influencing it and leave you behind, making you feel smaller than you already are. Quite the contrary I’d say.

The only difference between between Juvenal and us is that he could tell about of his fears straight out, and today you really can’t because then all the rest of the argumentation would fall apart.


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