Wild and Wiley Romans

24 March 2008

Ruminations on Anthony Everitt’s Augustus and Tacitus’ Annals

Trash People @ Rome 1, by robie06, with Creative Commons licenceCelebrity sex scandals, marriage and remarriage, the convolutions of temporary, loveless relationships – they’re all the trashy hallmarks of our day and age, right? Well, yes . . . but we shouldn’t think we’re unique, that civilisation is somehow tipping towards moral catastrophe. Next time you reach for People magazine, read the latest episode of Britney Spears’ sad derangement or wonder how happy Woody Allen is a decade into marriage to his ex-wife’s adopted daughter, remember that the Romans did it first. And, yes, they did it much better.

Sure, everyone knows the Romans weren’t saints. Most of you have probably heard of Roman orgies, even though they had more to do with gluttony than libido. Caligula, by all accounts, was fond of fornication – and we’ll meet him again soon – but even for him it wasn’t just sex and sweat.

Reading Anthony Everitt’s biography of Augustus Caesar recently I was struck by the melodrama in his account of the machinations between the First Citizen himself, his co-ruler and former son-in-law Mark Antony, and Egypt’s Macedonian queen, Cleopatra. In Everitt’s defence, he relies heavily on the writing of Cassius Dio and Appian, who are still the best we’ve got. And the situation was, even for the standard of the times, a little tawdry.

Leiden-RMO Roman box, figures ERL1007 web, by CESRAS, with Creative Commons licenceEveritt makes the point several times that sex, love and social relations were intertwined but by no means inseparable as the Roman Republic breathed its last. That Cleopatra was a sexual conquest for Augustus and Antony was largely incidental to her role in the politics of the coming Empire. She was both a chattel and a subordinate ruler: one did not necessarily imply the other.

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Welcome to the Age of Porn

15 February 2008

Hong Kong, You’re Standing in It

Scandals can be the spice of life, but sometimes they’re a little mundane. Take, for instance, the current kerfuffle in Hong Kong about photos uploaded to the Internet from singer Edison Chen’s laptop. Young Edison likes to take digital snaps of himself having sex with the local canto-starlets and is a little too gormless to not send his computer in for repairs. Another year, another celebrity screw up. Literally. Rob Lowe and Paris Hilton, you’re role models now.

happy-days.jpgWell Edison was happy for a while. Or smug. At least until his good times became news highlights. You might recognise the woman in the photo – she’s Gillian Chung, the now more besmirched half of the canto-pop duo Twins.

Wikipedia has a page on this with 63 footnotes! The EastSouthWestNorth blog has also been following the media rendition of the saga, day by day, and it’s carrying more of the censored photos. Particularly interesting are those from Oriental Sunday, published by the Emperor Group, which just so happens to own the Emperor Entertainment Group, Gillian Chung’s management. ‘Never let a chance go by’ we like to say in Hong Kong.

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