This morning, before heading over to Annecdotal to check out the featured books reviewed by Anne Goodwin, I had noticed “Fandango’s Flashback Friday” around the blogosphere. After reading Anne’s reaction to Piero Boitani’s A New Sublime: Ten Timeless Lessons on the Classics (translated by Ann Goldstein), I was led to dig into the way-back machine and use Flashback Friday as an excuse to create this post and present an ancient poem that was written as a reflection on ancient times.
Anne faults gaps in her own literary and cultural education for not having much to say in reaction to A New Sublime. She did find “flashes of connection” but “struggled to conceptualise that alongside cultures where slave-owning goes unquestioned, ditto an empire with a founding myth based on rape.”
Though I too have holes in my knowledge of ancient history and literature, I know the story Anne refers to. I know there are truths in myths. I know enough of the founding of Rome and the fall of Rome to be highly alarmed at current events, at the history we are presently living.
The flashback that I feature is from much further back than my blog; it was written in a time before, by a young woman just out of high school who could not have imagined that a country that had for over two hundred years claimed to incorporate the highest ideals from classical Greece and Rome, would so rapidly succumb to the basest aspects of a people.
In these times a flashback seems less discomfiting than a fast-forward; the future is uncertain, or worse. But maybe we can yet learn from history and redraft the present. Perhaps we the people can write a more united and democratic story for future tellers.
Classical History (circa 1983)
They say all roads lead to Rome
but that it was not built in a day
unless you consider that day at Romulus’ camp
A festival, the neighboring tribe unsuspecting
the deceit, disclosed as swords unsheathed
pointed the way
as sisters wives and daughters were dragged
from the bloodied site screaming
The Sabine women obscured by the road dust
of history’s memory
a couple of encyclopedia sentences, bleary
talk of cultural assimilation, dim recollection of
The Rape of the Sabine Women
subject heading for the legendary founding
of great western civilization.
But what of the captive women?
Did they dream of the Amazons?
In self defense one-breasted
in bold archer’s stance diminished
by brandished weapons
spears and arrows
in their calloused hands discovered