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SHILO BROOKS: Welcome back to The Free Mind podcast, where we discuss philosophic and political ideas with adventurous disregard for intellectual trends. I'm Shilo Brooks from the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I'm joined today by Wayne Ambler, associate professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and former dean and director of the Rome Program at the University of Dallas's Rome campus. Wayne's had a unique academic career in which he spent over 20 years, teaching, traveling, and conducting research on Rome. He currently hosts the Get Ready for Rome podcast, which introduces listeners to the city's long political and religious history. Its art, architecture, and culture. Our conversation today explores the enduring importance of Rome for Western civilization. We discuss the historical development of the city, its influence on Western Liberalism and the American Founding, the lessons that can teach today's students and its place in the broader history of political philosophy.
SHILO BROOKS: Wayne Ambler, welcome to The Free Mind podcast.
WAYNE AMBLER: Well, thanks for the welcome, I'm fired up to be here, I look forward to the conversation.
SHILO BROOKS: Yeah, so you've had a really interesting academic career as academic careers go, if I do say so myself. And what I mean by this is, you got to spend 10 years in Rome, living in Rome and in fact, whenever you left from, then you came to CU for a bit, and then you got to go back to Rome for 10 years with students from CU. So talk to us a little bit about how you became interested in Rome, both, I would say intellectually, spiritually, and why you've decided to start a new podcast, Ready for Rome, to prepare people to visit Rome.
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, well, going back to the beginning of your question, I guess that it's sort of a proof that at least some very strange roads lead to Rome, if all roads don't. I was teaching at a small Catholic college in Texas and all of a sudden I had the opportunity to go. I'd never been out of the country, my family was young, we thought it might be a one chance to get our kids over there. So we took off and headed to Rome, and much to my surprise, I just fell in love with it, perhaps not always for the best reasons. I just liked living there in part, but gradually this chance opportunity became a matter of choice for me, so that I started to do everything I could to make myself useful so I could stay in Rome and as you said, I managed to stay for 10 years, essentially raised my family over there.
Apart from the superficial reasons for enjoying Rome, which had to do, well they weren't all superficial, they had to do some work with friendship, working closely with faculty members that I liked, living together with students on campus and things of this sort, but for more general reasons to enjoy Rome, I found to my surprise that seeing things actually added to the books that I had studied, I think this is probably a sign of some human weakness and there would be many people who would be, find it sufficient, to read about Rome, but for me, my first visit to the Galleria Borghese was my first experience with really beautiful art that was moving. And I just can't describe the texture of the marble of Bernini's "Pluto and Persephone" or other such statue--you just have to see it. I got a better sense of the long duration of the Middle Ages, I went to see St Peter's the first time and didn't even realize it when I got there, but that was the second St Peter's, been around since the Renaissance, but there was a previous one that had been there for 1200 years. That was staggering. So they're just these little experiences that made me a little bit more alive to things I should have known from the books that I had read, but the experience mattered. Oh, go ahead, I'm sorry. I was gonna switch to some more fundamental reasons for taking Rome seriously, but go right ahead.
SHILO BROOKS: No, no, I wanna hear those reasons, and I think this next, this question, based on what you say, I wanna pose this question. When you talk about Rome, the enthusiasm in your voice is infectious and it's clear to me that you've taken students there and that you wanna share Rome with others and that's why you've decided to start this podcast, and it's why you've given 20 plus years of your career to take young people to Rome and showing them its sites and introducing them to its intellectual and political history, cultural history. So I just wanna ask, given your, I mean, it's clearly an audible passion for Rome. Why would you tell a person who doesn't know much about Rome, never been to Rome, hasn't studied it much, perhaps your typical 19, 20 year old. Why should they be interested in Rome?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, well, I wouldn't exclude some of the reasons that I've given. That like me, some 19 year olds actually can find their studies from books supplemented by experience. I hate to hear somebody say, I can't learn from books, I need experiential learning, it seems like a complete abdication of what we have to do to get educated. But I still think that actually being in a place and being in a place like Rome can supplement the studies that we do. So that's a very general response, but that's part of it. To see how the West changed over time, for example, is something that is conveyed very powerfully on Rome. You go to the Roman senate house, for example, and you're expecting to think just about ancient Roman politics on Cicero and then you find out that it became a church for 1,000 years and now what is it? It's a tourist site. So you see these three major different uses, you could say, of the same building, but a more fundamental answer to your question, I think would be from the point of view of politics, certainly Rome represents a reservoir of case studies, like no other place that I can think of. In its long history, it gives us all sorts of political and social problems that we can study. Social and political problems experienced by a sophisticated society on the grand scale.
I mean, I always liked that phrase in the Federalist Papers that, I think it's Hamilton, refers to history or experiences, that "great oracle of wisdom." Well, Rome offers a couple thousand years of very gated experience that we could turn into wisdom if we study it carefully. I could maybe give an example or two of that, but I think that's one very big category of things. Another is, it seems to me very important for us and these days to talk about what Western civilization is, if it exists, is it admirable? Is it damnable? Or is it both in different ways? Can we identify it? What are its elements? And it's been, I don't know, since the 1980s that we heard from the left, “Hey, hey, ho. ho. Western Civ has gotta go” and we hear from the traditionalist, “No, it's wonderful. Our tradition is the source of great blessings.” Well, I'm more of a traditionalist, I confess, but the tradition still needs to be studied critically. Just what is Western civilization? Just what are its benefits? Are there defects? And Rome, I think has a claim to be considered something like the capital city of Western civilization for a couple thousand years. So I think that's a second big category of reasons why a young person should study Rome if they care, to get a good liberal education.
SHILO BROOKS: Yeah, I'm persuaded by that. Particularly, your claim that Rome is a sort of capital of the West, and on this score, I wanted to ask you about your presentation of Rome, because part of your task in your Get Ready for Rome podcast is, as you put it, to bring order to chaos in the Eternal City. And so, Rome is a huge city historically. And by that, I mean, it spans, as you say, in your podcast, the ancient pagan, Christian and modern eras, and it's been important in all three, that kind of enduring city. Can you talk about, what is the chaos of the Eternal City? How are you gonna bring order to that? What does that mean? How are you presenting this city?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, well, it's a bold claim, but here's what I have in mind. I mean, first of all, all visitors to Rome know that it's chaotic because of the buzzing traffic and the mopeds all over the place. But what I have in mind is what I experienced when I first went there. I didn't know much about Rome and what I felt as I tried to learn through guidebooks, and good guidebooks, that there were just infinite numbers of facts and no discernible orders. And then every site that I visited had a name on it, a date, the name of a sculptor, the name of an artist, name of a political figure. Centuries just flew by and it was hard for anything to stick much because there was just so much as we like being kicked through the centuries and was spoken of as the Eternal City with all kinds of different stimuli, art and architecture together.
Now the order that I think I find in Rome, and if I don't find it, perhaps I'll be guilty of imposing it, is that I would say, no, it's wrong to think of Rome as an Eternal City with a single identity and this undifferentiated mass of factoids. It's really better to think of Rome as three different mortal cities, not eternal, each of which is deeply different from the others. Somewhat like the way the names of the second Rome evolved, that is to say, the city that was once Byzantium was renamed in 330 Constantinople, and then renamed again in 1453, Istanbul. Those changing names indicate different identities, and I think with Rome, there are sharp distinctions between the ancient, pagan, and aristocratic city, the medieval Christian and monarchical, or even theocratic city, and then the modern secular or non-religious democratic city. So by focusing on these different religious, political and historical changes, I would like to create a kind of dialogue or acknowledge, in fact, a shouting match and a fight between these three different and opposed societies.
I have one second principle that I can mention more briefl,y and that is following a, showing that it's a Roman idea, "festina lente," make haste slowly. So I try to introduce complexity gradually, and don't start with 20 centuries; that I really focus on two toward the beginning, the fourth and the 19th, because these are great centuries of cultural transformation in Rome. And it goes from pagan to Christian. And when it goes in my view, at least, from Christian to secular, and I don't give 1,000 details, but I give three Romes. Now, I have to change this because ultimately I need to bring the complexity in, but in the beginning, "make haste slowly" is my principle.
SHILO BROOKS: Yeah, that seems, that seems prudent. I want to talk a little bit it gradually, this is a huge question, but about the enduring importance of Rome to the West and to dovetail into this question, or at least to back into it slowly, we just talked about how your goal is to bring order to chaos in the Eternal City and what precisely that means. Well, you start out on your podcast, one of the very first episodes is on a statue of Giordano Bruno, and I'm interested to hear why you start there, and if you could talk to our listeners a bit about that. Of course, this is called the Free Mind podcast for a reason, a certain devotion to, as our tagline, is the pursuit of truth wherever it may lead, adventurous disregard for intellectual trends, these sorts of things, Bruno seems to me in a certain sense to embody that and you choose to start there. And so can you talk to us a little bit about who he was, and why you start there, and the importance of that statue, both in terms of its importance to the city, and intellectually its significance?
WAYNE AMBLER: Sure, I'd love to try. It's a wonderful statue and I enjoyed studying it. I would say that the ideas that you attribute to Bruno, they deserve to be attributed, especially to those who erected the Bruno statue and how they use Bruno's career for their modern ideas. But let me start more at the beginning. Bruno was a kind of Galileo-type character, 30 years before Galileo. He was a kind of scientist, one who wanted to discover the truth of astronomy for himself. I think his ideas were sometimes a bit mystical, but still, instead of basing all of his thoughts on the revelation that was handed down, he was actually trying to think for himself and figuring things out. He realized that he might have a difficulty with the Roman Catholic Church, so he spent his time more or less like an old Greek Sophos wandering over Europe, then picking up teaching jobs as far away as Oxford and Prague and eventually in Venice. Anyway, he was eventually brought to the attention of the Roman Catholic authorities and tried by the Inquisition for nine years and then executed rather brutally in a central square in Rome for heresy. And those, so that was in 1600 and of course the church was then ruling Rome, that was essentially the source of political authority, was the Roman Catholic Church. And the church thought it was doing its job in punishing heresy in executing Bruno. Almost 300 years later, the church was kicked out of political power in Rome when the troops of the new Italy broke through the ancient walls of Rome, it took political power from the papacy and established the Italian government in Rome. And soon thereafter a statue is erected, remembering Bruno as a victim of the Roman Catholic Church.
So the statue is a kind of radical in-your-face manifestation of a fundamental change and world view. It takes a man who was punished by the Roman Catholic Church and turns him into a hero. So he was rehabilitated 300 years after his death. His statue faces the Vatican, seems to glare, and is located where he was killed. And to its proponents, Bruno represents a new age of free thought, that's what it says on the front of the statue. The age that he prophesied is now here, where he burned at the stake. And the inaugural address for the statue claimed that this moment, namely the erecting this statue, is more painful to the papacy. The claim to this proudly that this is a more painful moment to the papacy than the 20 of September was when the troops took political power, because now the papacy and the views of the proponents of the statue was losing not only political power, but it was actually witnessing a complete transformation on the way human beings would go about figuring out the truth of things. It would inaugurate, as Bovio put it, the speaker at the event, the religion of thought, and it would honor “the goddess Reason” as opposed to that of faith. So I can't think of a statue in Rome, and at least, maybe anywhere, that signals such a radical transformation or claims such a radical transformation in the fundamental basis of how we should live and how we should act. It does raise the question of whether the new age has really arrived, whether it's even possible and whether it will bring only blessings, but that is the claim of the statue, I think.
SHILO BROOKS: I'm just curious, why did you choose to start there?
WAYNE AMBLER: Because I thought it was... my way of trying to bring order to chaos in the Eternal City is by trying to show it's not an Eternal City and that it's provided against itself. And I think the Bruno statue represents more clearly than anything else I can think of, a fundamental evidence of a fundamental transformation of human thought and the way we see the world.
SHILO BROOK: And this statue embodies that transformation. And this really gets at the question of the enduring importance of Rome to the West. I mean, you mentioned earlier that there's this kind of split between traditionalist and non-traditionalist on the question of the importance of Rome, Rome's legacy. I understand that it's not out of bounds today, certainly for classicists and historians, to be very, very critical of Rome and to, in fact, begin their studies with criticisms of Rome. And we know that Rome was an empire, we know that they practiced slavery, we know that it wasn't a particularly friendly place to women, these sorts of things. And so despite that, I think a case could be made that we can still learn something from Rome, and in fact, we can still admire Rome. And in the Bruno statue, to me is one way of indicating perhaps part of what's so admirable, complex, and nuanced about the city, but I'm curious to get your take on criticisms of Rome. And of course, in light of those criticisms, why Rome is still worth studying, and not just worth studying, but an admirable place.
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, a wonderful and difficult question. I think it is true to start with that some works on Rome, I'm thinking of Mary Beard's book, SPQR for example, and the way she explains it in an article in The Guardian, do put up front kind of notice that they're not completely impressed by ancient Rome and that they have serious disagreements with a certain of their principles, but it does concern me that this is where they start. I wouldn't be so concerned if it was where one concluded, namely that it was an imperial city and therefore we shouldn't rush to admire it after careful consideration. But I worry that we are a little bit too quick to apply our own principles to the study of Rome rather than taking Rome seriously for a while and hesitating to judge. I mean, part of what I hear the academic community saying is that we need to respect the other and we shouldn't be judgmental, but the attacks on ancient and also Christian Rome come very thick and fast up in the beginning. So I guess my questions are, what are the standards that we should use for judging a past society; and how should our circumstances affect those judgments? And I am not sure that often, or but sometimes at least, these questions are taken with full seriousness.
Circumstances, for example, are very, very different, different with slavery. It's the easiest thing in the world for me to condemn it. I've got a refrigerator, a car, running water, hot water, access to supermarkets, and no one I know has ever practiced or defended slavery. My whole world has been lived in opposition to it. So for me, I can condemn it without any cost and even with a sense of righteousness, but in ancient Rome, every society had slaves, no society had labor-saving technology. And so our society is certainly better than Roman society because of our opportunities. But I don't know that this means that we should judge ancient Roman society without considering their circumstances, or that we should feel so superior as individuals. I guess I would add that, you know, we also export some of our, the nasty tasks that we rely on, to poor workers in Bangladesh or Columbia or something. They're not slaves, but it's not as though everything that we have is produced by happy workers.
So point one, I just think that the judgment of Rome, I'm not necessarily opposing criticism, I'm not opposing criticism, they deserve it for certain reasons. I mean, I think one place where they really deserve it is with regard to the games, the so-called games that put on the Coliseum that were absolutely brutal, but I'd love to see a little bit more patience, taking the circumstances into account before these judgments are made. I would say the same thing with regard to imperialism real quickly. I mean, if their lives weren't threatened, then of course, it's easy to, if your life isn't threatened, there's no need to accumulate an empire, but Rome's first couple of centuries were brutal and she had to fight for her survival against countries or political bodies that were more established and stronger than she was. So it is not entirely surprising that she came to develop a rather tough foreign policy. The Battle of Cannae, she lost 60,000 soldiers in a single day, that's almost as many as the United States lost in 10 years of the Vietnam War and this was a much smaller population base. So the standards for success and failure, the price of success and failure, was very different from what we're accustomed to. I think this should have some effect on how we look at ancient Rome.
SHILO BROOKS: Yeah, I appreciate that. The complexity and nuance with what you're willing to examine the question, state the question and the various ways you're willing to pose the question. I wanna keep pursuing this line of inquiry on the enduring importance of Rome to the West. And this is not something you've discussed in your podcast, but I'd like to talk for a minute about Rome's influence on, and perhaps we should be specific here, as you encourage us to in your podcast, ancient Rome, a lot of people when they refer to Rome, they mean ancient Rome, and we should certainly be specific whether we mean ancient Christian or modern, I'm talking about ancient here. Could you say something about the influence of ancient Rome on America and particularly the American Founding? It's no secret that the writers of the Federalist Papers signed those papers with a name, "Publius" Many of the anti-federalists adopted Roman names: Brutus, etc. And of course our architecture in Washington heavily draws on Roman architecture. So just for folks who are looking around them, especially young people, I suspect you've had to bridge this gap before and you look around their society and say, well, Rome is interesting, but modern America or America in general, I just don't see anything Roman here. Well, in fact, there's a sense in which Rome has been present in America from its conception, from its founding, certainly intellectually and even architecturally. So, what is the enduring importance of Rome for the United States and how did Rome affect the Founders in the American Founding?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, another excellent and big question, which I won't be able to answer fully, but here are a couple of thoughts. For one thing I would go back and reiterate the point I made about one wonderful reason for studying Rome is because it offers a reservoir, a great body of political experience from which one can learn a lot. And I'd say in the Federalist Papers, it's striking that there are a number of references to ancient Rome, but they're not all flattering. And they don't, the Founding doesn't embrace the exact conclusions of ancient Rome on every case. What they do is they see that the experience of Rome deserves to be studied and analyzed carefully, and then they draw conclusions that are sometimes favorable or sometimes in agreement and sometimes not.
So, for example, should we have one president or should we have two? Two has the advantage that they can check each other and that's what the Romans did. They had two councils, so their executive power was plural rather than unitary. The Founding Fathers considered that idea, they saw its merits, but eventually they rejected it and decided that in fact, it's better to have a unitary executive. That seems to me fine and wonderful, because there's just so much you can learn from that long Roman experience. I think more generally that one of the things that did influence the Founding is the fact that Rome was a republic for 500 years. So even my not quite but close. So even my term ancient Rome is too broad that needs to be broken down into, as I would do it at least, an ancient monarchy, an ancient republic and an ancient empire. And republican government, it hurts me to say this, but republican government is very difficult, and many republics are short-lived and the same as equally, or perhaps even more true of democracies. And the Romans were able to have a republic that lasted for 500 years, that caught the Founders' attention. And certainly is one of the reasons that they studied it carefully. And Publius of course, is one of the first two main leaders of the ancient Roman republic when it first came into being. And I think the enthusiasm for ancient Roman architecture, it's just amazing, frankly. I hadn't noticed it until after I started studying Rome and then visited the Washington Mall. And I mean, it's just one structure after another that is almost like a carbon copy of something from ancient Rome though. The obelisk of the Washington Monument, the rotunda to the Jefferson Memorial, the stately temple dedicated to Lincoln with the Capitol, it's quite remarkable. But then also banks. If you ever go to the financial district in Chicago, probably and other cities as well, but at the turn of, the beginning of the 20th century to see if a building wants to show solidity and durability, there's nothing like Roman architecture to give that kind of suggestion.
SHILO BROOKS: Right, yeah, yeah. That seems true to me certainly for anybody who visits Washington. It's quite obvious as you say. I think this question about the enduring importance of Rome, the influence of Rome on modern institutions is an important one. And as you're talking, I'm thinking about, I'm hearkening back to my days in graduate school. And I had, you and I in fact, went to the same graduate school. And I had a teacher there who would visit often from France and his name was Pierre Manent. And I know that you're familiar with his work 'cause we're both political theorists, you and me. And I wanted to ask you, you know, one of the things that was so fascinating to me about the class I took with Manent, it was called "Rome from City to Empire," and it was a kind of experiment or a laboratory for a book that he would eventually go on to write. And Manent made the claim, as I recall, and it's been many years, is, I recall, that the locus of modern politics can be traced back to Rome because Rome underwent a transformation from city to empire, and Manent is a thinker, very interested in the question of political form and how political form has changed over time and how the politics of a city are different from the politics of an empire and how amazingly in Rome, a city becomes an empire and the story of that transformation in Manent's view is in a certain sense, the story of the transformation from ancient political thought to modern political thought. And I'm interested to hear you reflect on that question some, whether you agree with Manent on this score and where Rome fits in with respect to the question of the study of political theory, because there's another competing view, which was really popular amongst some of my other professors in graduate school, was that, well, most of modern political thought can be traced back to a famous Italian sure, but not the Romans, that famous Italian is Niccolo Machiavelli. And that's really where modern politics and political thought begins. And I remember Manent saying, no, no, Cicero is in fact, the genesis of modern political thought and Rome itself is the genesis. In so far as the political form of the empire really takes shape and of course, reflection on the nature of empire takes shape in Rome. What's your view of the significance of Rome for political theory and its in modern political form?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, a difficult question, especially since I haven't read Manent recently, but I did read his book, The Metamorphoses of the City, which is the book I suppose he was working on when you took that graduate seminar. We'll see whether I can remember any of the key points in it. But the first thing I would say with regard to the most general part of your question, which is, where does Rome fit in with the study of political theory or political philosophy? I would say, this is another good reason to study Rome because so many, not all, but so many great political philosophers wrote about it. And you have not only the Romans themselves, some of whom are tremendously impressive, including the Cicero mentioned by Manent and then Machiavelli, who does this commentary on Libya and refers to also to Roman The Prince, but you've also got of course Montesquieu and so you've Goethe, you've got Montaigne who visited Rome and wrote about it. You've got the American Founding Fathers, you've got the whole French Revolution that was deeply inspired by Rome.
So I think if you want to sort through the literature of modern political philosophy, in fact, it helps to study Rome a little bit to begin with, that's the most general point. Beyond that without going back and studying Manent again right now, I would say that I'm a little bit less, I'm not entirely persuaded by the thesis that modern political thought begins with Cicero. I'm one of those who tends to see a fundamental question of looking, well, what is the nature of man and what are the goals of political life? And it strikes me that the break and the introduction of modernity comes from at that moment, when the rights of individuals, the liberty of individuals becomes the primary goal of political life and the primary task of political society, so that the whole architecture of politics is devoted toward the individual and protecting those natural rights. That is something that you don't find among the ancients. It seems to me that, at least, especially the republican period, that it was that the individual is devoted to Rome and you have these, we might say almost bizarre stories of devotion taken to the nth degree where not only the individual devotes himself to Rome, but also is prepared to kill his son for the sake of the city. It's Rome, Rome, Rome is first and in the modern period, as you know very well, we have Locke and Hobbes and Rousseau and an emphasis on the rights of the individual. That seems to me more striking, more massive than the question of empire. I also don't know that the question of empire has been picked up as something that should be imitated so that it's followed by all modern societies. Whereas I do think something that links the modern West: France, Great Britain, Italy, the United States, is the devotion to individual rights, the principles as they're stated in the Declaration of Independence, that would be the start of my answer anyway.
SHILO BROOKS: Sure, sure. But don't you see, I mean, I guess to kind of deepen, I think some of the things Manent is looking at, you mentioned the American Founding and the emphasis that the Founders placed on the importance of Rome. You talked about the two consuls and these sorts of things. And I assume that it's not by chance that the anti-federalists, or one of the more famous anti-federalists, is called Brutus. That the question of empire, national government over and against the question of state and local government, the city versus the empire, the federal government versus the local government or the state government, Rome is pregnant with political lessons about what happens when government goes grand. That is to say, whenever the virtue of the city and the replication of that virtue in its citizens, which is possible on the scale of a city or a city state, or perhaps a state the size of the American one, I can't say, but certainly a city, but is no longer possible once you have an empire. And so, in a certain way, the moral tenor of the regime, or at least the moral purpose of the regime, changes or is loosened, because it can no longer produce the kinds of citizens on the grand scale that it was able to produce on the small scale. And this seems to me to be something that the anti-federalists were concerned with. I mean, that in addition to the violation of, or at least the conceivable robbery of, or having violence done to the very liberties that you point out, by a government that is, in their view, even though it was only 13 colonies at the time, and didn't even get to Ohio yet, an empire, you see what I mean?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, I do see what you mean and I think it's a very good point. I still don't know that I would see it as the fundamental distinction between ancient and modern. I don't know whether the ancients would have been ready to recognize that, depending on foreign policy situations, it's necessary to expand the size of a particular political body, not for some abstract theoretical principle, but for the demands of safety and foreign policy. And I'd be tempted to say that regime that was so admired by the anti-federalists by Brutus and colleagues, well, it turned into an empire and I think one reason it did so, I mean, I don't know that this is the only reason, it's a hard question, but I think one reason it did so it was because it was fighting for its life from the very beginning against powerful enemies and most of the other states in the area, little states in the areas were more established and more threatening than Rome. So I don't think the development of Rome's imperial capacity was strictly a theoretical or moral choice, but rather a kind of natural extension of a struggle for life and death against hard circumstances. And I'm tempted to say the same would hold in the case of the American Founding. Whether it could be seen as strictly a theoretical principle, what would we like as opposed to a question of what do we need to have in light of the challenges that we face in the contemporary world where France and Great Britain, even though there's an ocean between them, they're here on our continent and we've got to contend with them. So, I think political necessity has got to be factored into the equation.
SHILO BROOKS: Yeah, yeah. I buy that and I can agree with that. Let me ask you to sort of change direction just a bit, you know, and go back to something you mentioned earlier. I was talking to you about why we should think about Rome, why we should study Rome, why we should visit Rome. And one of the things that you mentioned that I find very, very persuasive is that Rome contains a history from which we can learn and that, that history, if human beings are the same, or if the nature of human beings is the same, Roman history, although the facts on the ground are different, the motivations, the nature of, of human beings is not so different. And Machiavelli obviously is probably the most famous thinker who picks this up and his discourses on Livy and uses ancient Roman examples as lessons for modern Republican politics. But my question is less narrow than that. And what I wanna talk about is, I was listening to one of your podcasts, I forget which one, and you talk about the defacing of statues in Rome, and you point out very, very perspicaciously that, this has been common in Rome, that statutes have been destroyed, that toppled, had violence done to them. And that this is not necessarily a new phenomenon in the United States. This part where we were recording this in 2020, in this past summer, there was a wave of statues being spray painted, or knocked down in the United States. And it's very interesting to me that you say, well, this has happened in Rome before. And so I'm interested to hear about the Roman experience with this, and whether you can sort of reflect on the causes of this in Rome, what we might learn about the Roman instances of this sort of thing ourselves today as we grapple with a very difficult history, which is often memorialized in statues.
WAYNE AMBLER: Right. Let me just say real quickly in the beginning. Yes, I think Rome is a wonderful, offers a wonderful bunch of examples about political situations that sound very, very familiar. And I really want to bring that out. I'm not a fan of just kind of visiting Rome as a dead city from the past, but to the contrary, something that can really speak to us quite directly. So that's probably behind whatever I might've said about statues being knocked down. Yes, cultural cancellation, the destruction of images. I almost hate to say this, but I think it happened on a grand scale in the transformation of Rome from a pagan to a Christian city. It's a sensitive topic, it's an amazing thing roughly in the fourth century, obviously a little bit beyond that, but roughly in the fourth century, Rome went from being pagan to Christian. How did that happen? What are the consequences? That is just a massive, huge question. A whole different moral code, a new theology, and also the destruction of a lot of architecture. Partly, classical pagan culture was canceled by early Christians who saw that it represented a fundamentally different view of life and maybe with some superstitious reasons thrown in that they thought that pagan statues contained demons or some such things so that they would actually be a kind of threat of that sort. And the details in Rome per se, are sadly so far as I've been able to tell a bit murky.
But if you look at the empire as a whole, and we're not talking about a vast territory which was ruled by a single individual, there's a lot of information data about what happened, especially in the East and scholars Kenneth Haro, Ramsay MacMullen are very good on this, I think. It's shocking how much smashing of statues, closing of temples, destruction of temples, conversion of temples occurred to help affect this transition with wild stories of monks armed with cudgels that attack pagans that are in important old classical buildings like the sarah payam and ruseon and Alexandria and killing a woman philosopher, mathematician named Hypatia. all kinds of things like this happen. Google the name "Barsauma," if you wanna get started on this. Now in Rome, it's in the city per se, I'd love to know more details. There you can see cases of the very orderly removal of pagan statues by imperial decree. I mean, there's even a debate about whether to do it between a Roman pagan named Symmachus and the Bishop of Milan, more powerful than the pope at that time, named Ambrose. So it's more orderly, but lots of references, even in Christian literature, to acts of superstition to destroy these things. So that's one whole class of monumental destruction, you could say, cultural cancellation. There's another example which the Roman went under the name, this is from the pagan period, called "Damnatio Memoriae," where ancient Romans would have their memory, individual Romans would have their memory canceled. This was usually done for just political reasons, that some emperor didn't want a rival of his ever to be remembered lest it weaken his own authority. So Caracalla erases the name of his brother from the Arch of Severus, because if I remember correctly, he killed him and didn't want anyone to remember that deed. The Senate erased the name of Commodus, for example, that son of Marcus Aurelius. So this I think was not usually a matter of principle so much as personal rivalry. In more, yeah, go ahead.
SHILO BROOKS: What would you say... I mean, so you see these, you've given us some great examples of this, and if you were taking students or friends to Rome and you making this point to them there and showing them that, look, this is not so unique, what's happening in the United States. This happened in Rome for various political cultural reasons. What would you say they should, the lesson that they should take away from this is for us? You see what I'm saying?
WAYNE AMBLER: Well, I don't think the fact that it happens means that it's something to be applauded. That would be step one. I think it happened and whether it happened and made things better or made things worse is something to be decided on more individual cases. I mean, some of the cases that I look at, especially in the city of Alexandria briefly mentioned by Montenitha, you know, deeply distressing, because there are signs of mobs acting without understanding really fully what they're doing, at least as I see it. So I don't offer the, "this is the legacy of Rome that should be followed." I mentioned these manifestations of the severity of political passions and religious passions and the willingness to act on them. I don't know whether I'm addressing your questions or maybe if you wanna follow.
SHILO BROOKS: I think you are. I think that's what I had in mind. I look back when I read Machiavelli and I, I see him discussing the Romans and I often think the political circumstances he's talking about on the ground here in Rome are not entirely dissimilar from the ones that I find myself in on occasion here in America in 2020. And so I think that that comparison of the ancient to the modern and the question of what can be extracted from it in terms of learning, especially for young people who might have a kind of a certain kind of a historical or an historical perspective is, is useful. One thing I wanna address just a couple more.
WAYNE AMBLER: Could I just add one more point to the Eibar discussion? I mean, this is an impression that deserves to be tested by people that follow the news with more care than I suppose, but it seems to me that a couple of years ago, there was just tremendous outrage at what ISIS did to ancient Roman statues in Syria, Palmyra, Syria. And before that, to what the Taliban did to statues, I think of Buddha, if I remember correctly in Afghanistan, and it's funny how that outrage has disappeared. So there are also modern, more or less contemporary examples of the same thing that has happened. I realize that each case has to be looked at somewhat separately, but I do think the evidence of what, maybe put it under this general name, iconoclasm, the smashing of images. It has a rich history in Rome, there are all kinds of case studies, case examples, and we wanted to get to the bottom of it. I think we'd have a lot of material coming out of Rome.
SHILO BROOKS: Yeah, that's certainly true. On this, just one final question related to this. In one of your podcasts, you talk about the sanding away, grinding away of references to Mussolini and Italian fascism on a certain Roman statue. And you point this out as a kind of attempt to erase a very ugly history. And we've talked a lot about ancient Rome, largely because that's sort of the intellectual wellspring of Roman history, but of course, there's Christian Rome, and then there's modern Rome and fascist Rome. Can you talk a little bit about how Mussolini Roman fascism fits into the story of Rome?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yeah, it doesn't, and it's wonderful for that reason. Mussolini is one of the reasons at a later date, I'm going to introduce a complication. I start with three Romes, but frankly, these 2,000 years plus of history are not that simple and I'm gonna multiply those Romes. So we have modern Rome beginning in 1870 when modern Italy takes Rome away from the papacy and introduces a new parliamentary form of government under a limited monarchy, etc. That's modern Rome in my understanding. But then 50 years later, Mussolini comes along and seizes political power and he does not embody those principles of modern Rome, but in fact represents the reaction against them. So I have to multiply my modern Romes from one to two at that point. But he's a wonderful and important part of the story, I think, and important for us because it's a sign that modern liberal principles are not under all circumstances attractive and under some circumstances are vulnerable. So my project is to focus on the city of Rome and I can't really take the time to offer a full analysis of Mussolini in his fascism, but they are important for me precisely to show, to help us think more critically about whether our modern principles are fully right and fully durable and what weaknesses that they might have. I think Mussolini might help with that. My own focus on Mussolini is going to be on his architectural projects, the erasure of his architectural projects, the evidence of World War II in Rome for which he bears great responsibility. And then, the evidence of the German occupation of Rome in 1943 and '44 and deportation of the Jews. So he's certainly important for my pods, but I can't offer a full analysis of fascism.
SHILO BROOKS: Sure, yeah, that's fair. And I certainly look forward to what you sketched out.
WAYNE AMBLER: It's interesting by the way, if you walk around Rome, I've had the luxury of doing this, but walk around Rome, make observations. I can remember seeing for the first time the letters EF and then a Roman numeral, I had no idea what they meant. So I just filed it away. One of the 10,000 things I didn't understand. And then eventually I learned all right, EF that means the era fascista, the fascist era and that Roman numeral, that is the reference to the date, the year of the fascist era. So the fascist started redoing the calendar in the year 1922 after the March on Rome. And so the era fascista with a Roman numeral 10, that would be 1932, but as I've gone back to Rome since then, I noticed these EFs are disappearing all of the time. So, that's an effort on the part of the modern Italy to reduce the references to Mussolini. It's a political issue. And there are some of those who oppose this and in fact, there's still the remains, so some surprising signs of Musolini's years, some slogans, for example, that are clearly fascist slogans that still exist out at the photo Olympic or north of Rome.
SHILO BROOKS: Well, we've got to wind it down, but I do have one final question for you. And that is, one thing I often ask folks at the end of these podcasts is, if you could recommend two or three books, you know, sometimes when I'm discussing a figure with somebody, I'll ask by the figure or on the figure, but in your case, can you recommend two or three primary source books that would give listeners a sense for the richness of Roman intellectual, cultural, political life?
WAYNE AMBLER: Yes, it's again, a hard choice. I would say, first of all, that, you know, when it comes to primary source books, we're really speaking, especially of ancient pagan Rome, and the primary source books for Christian Rome and modern Rome are many fewer in number, unless you want to say that the Bible was the primary source book for Christian Rome. So with that limitation in mind that we're thinking now of ancient pagan, Rome, I love Livy and I love Livy in part for young people because he's just a pleasant author to read. So I guess I would start with Livy. I mean, one of his wonderful devices is to sometimes give multiple accounts of the same event to force his readers to think about which one is more plausible. A simple example, the founder of Rome, Romulus, was assumed into heaven to join the gods, or alternatively was torn into small pieces by the senators. So I think Livy gives a great account of what happened, well stories about early Rome and only about 25% of his work survives, he wrote a lot, but he's where I’d start. And then if you're going to do Livy, it would be natural to turn next to Machiavelli's discourses, because Machiavelli dedicated as longer work to the first 10 books of Livy and to see how Machiavelli read Livy I think is a great instruction, not only about Rome, but also in how to interpret, how to read a book, how to interpret a book. And then since you gave me the option of two or three, I'd throw in Plutarch's, putting them just slightly ahead of Shakespeare, because he includes Shakespeare and the stories that Shakespeare relies on, but gives us so much more, including, for example the, I think a wonderful account of when the Romans conquered the Greek city of Syracuse and discovered for the first time, the beautiful art of the ancient Greeks and what an effect it had on them, they were just sort of culturally backward warrior types. And then they come across this absolutely stunning, the beautiful city. So I think Plutarch can help us see how Greek culture actually conquered Rome after Rome had conquered Greece.
SHILO BROOKS: I certainly vouch for those authors and just because I don't wanna do injustice to Christian and modern Rome, is there a, I just happen to be a big fan of primary sources, I want people to have unfettered access to the history as the great writers presented it, but give something on modern Rome and Christian Rome, just so we might..
WAYNE AMBLER: Well, you could say Gibbon, because Gibbon, his focus is the decline and fall of the Roman empire, but he considers what we call today the Byzantine empire, he considers correctly, I think, to be the extension of the Roman empire and that becomes Christian in the fourth century and goes on for another 1,000 years. So that's 1,000 years of Christian political rule out of Byzantium. So Gibbon would be my mention, if you wanna see a good study in the cultural contrasts, to some extent, legacy, but especially contrast between pagan and Christian, I'd go with Gibbon. For modern Rome, there's an English language historian named Denis Mack Smith who's written, I don't know, probably 10 books on the transformation of papal Rome into modern Rome. I think they're very good, I certainly have relied on them myself. I don't know that they would qualify as primary sources, but that's what comes to mind.
SHILO BROOKS: Well, thank you so much, Wayne Ambler, you can find out more about Wayne's podcast at getreadyforrome.com. You can also find it on your favorite podcast portal. Thanks so much, Wayne.
WAYNE AMBLER: My pleasure, it's been great talking to you, Shilo. I appreciate it.
SHILO BROOKS: The Free Mind podcast is produced by the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado Boulder. You can email us feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us online at colorado.edu/center/benson.