that Speaks French

Of all the depressing novels I know, Jude the Obscure takes the prize for sustained doom and gloom. Don’t let the film mislead you; it is far too pretty. All those authentic Victorian sets (not to mention the delightfully authentic Kate Winslet) undermine the exposition of Jude’s law, that Sod and Murphy were incurable optimists, […]

Antipodean Sweetener

One of the unsung pleasures of a summer weekend in an English country house is the short shelf of books left in the spare bedroom for the entertainment of guests. If you are out of luck, the row of volumes on the bedside table consists of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, Regency bodice-rippers by the likes […]

Red-Blooded Australian

It is a drear thought that if you can remember the Pudding Shop on the north side of Divan Yolu in Istanbul you must be well into middle age. “Those were the days, my friend,” the Seekers sang, “We thought they’d never end, we would be young for ever and a day.” As the Roman […]

Magic Potion

No one ever added more acreage to the Roman Empire than Julius Caesar (the Roman geezer). Until his time, Roman territory in what is now France was the relatively narrow sliver along the Mediterranean coast that is still called Provence, precisely because it was the original Roman province. In ten years Caesar took over all […]

Bird is the Word

When I first came to Minnesota twenty years ago, I had never taught a class larger than ten students—mostly I had conducted the one-to-one tutorials that are at the heart of the Oxford system. My first term here I was given a class on the Roman Republic that numbered some seventy souls. The learning curve […]

Chalk & Cheese

When you buy a farm, said the Roman agricultural writer Palladius, you need to look at the people who live in the area. If they seem a sturdy lot, you can invest with confidence, but if they are podgy and pasty faced (that is a free translation of the Latin), then keep away. The local […]

Drink to Forgiveness

What, a student asked the other day, was the last place to be ruled by the Romans? Nowhere in Italy, that’s for certain; the last Roman emperor I know to have set foot on mainland Italy with the purpose of exercising political power was Constans II in 662. The Holy Roman Empire, begun by Charlemagne […]

Strine Wine

When I was home in England over Christmas, I caught a liver specialist from (appropriately enough) Liverpool being interviewed on the wireless. He was talking about cirrhosis, that very nasty condition in which the liver turns into little yellowish granules, and eventually packs up completely. When he began in the liver business years ago, he […]

A Winter Warmer

These winter mornings, the sunshine shows things as they are. I was recently in Devon, the corner of southwest England where I was brought up, which was covered with a fine coating of frost that imparts sharpness to every detail of the landscape. “Proper rimey,” said my neighbor there, a man who lives in the […]

Heavenly Drinking

Heaven, said the Regency wit Sydney Smith, is eating paté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets. It sounds pretty piggy if you ask me, all too like the fellow who said that you should decide what to do in life by following your bliss. And rather odd doctrine for S. Smith, who made […]