Roman Way, The
by Edith Hamilton
Ancient Rome is often portrayed as a copy-cat culture, ready to borrow any and every idea from the people they subdued. There is some truth to this: it’s an unimaginative culture indeed that must borrow Greek gods and give them Latin names. Rome’s genius was for order, not creativity.
That said, there are important distinctions between ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Your students should have already read excerpts from Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way, and should feel fairly familiar with the Greek mindset. Hamilton then helps students distinguish between Greece and Rome in The Roman Way.
“Conscious virtue, noble declamation, a fine gesture—none of that is Greek,” writes Hamilton. “Where the Romans were all for exalted sentiments, the Greeks were singularly matter-of-fact, and this difference is an important reason, perhaps the chief reason, why we feel instinctively at home in the Roman way and strangers to the Greek. A certain amount of heroics is necessary for us.”
Hamilton supports her observations by quoting liberally from ancient texts. Once we hear a character created by the Roman playwright Plautus saying, “The real dowry that I brought you was not gold but purity,/Honor, self-control and reverence for the gods, my parents too,/Love to all my kin, obedience to my husband, serving him/In true faithfulness,” we can see that Hamilton’s observation about “conscious virtue” is valid.
It’s inaccurate to lump ancient Rome together with ancient Greece. Yes, the Romans “borrowed” frequently from other cultures—but they also put their own stamp on that second-hand material. Hamilton will help your students see what this stamp looked like.
by Jeff Baldwin