Insights from Quadrant

Oh, to be in Rome

According to interstate sources, life is good elsewhere in Australia on this Saturday in November. But not here in Victoria, where Quadrant Online is based and the state’s citizens will learn tonight the identity of their next government. The polls all say it will be a cakewalk for Labor Premier Daniel Andrews, which is a prophecy that meshes rather neatly with the grey, cold, bleak and rain-speckled mood of the day.

The temptation is to direct the imagination far, far away. In this regard, senior lecturer in classics at Cambridge University Nigel Spivey’s review in The New Criterion of The Rome We Have Lost by John Pemble is a transport of dark delight. “There is no place like Rome for inducing melancholia,” he writes, evidently never having visited Melbourne on an unseasonably chilly Saturday.

Psychologically, to those who immerse themselves in it, the city is depressing. Sigmund Freud—who immersed himself repeatedly—noted that effect without diagnosing the cause. It may have perplexed him, since he also recognized the contentment of exploring ancient ruins—a return (of course) to the bourn of a maternal embrace.

Rome is always feminine, thus the eternal mother. Yet eternity unsettles us. If only the city would crumble. If only it would obey the laws of vegetable growth and decay, or else have the decency to fossilize like Troy and Nineveh. If only Rome were to match those other great cities of Classical antiquity, Athens and Alexandria, and fashion of its past glory a definable museum. Then we might take some comfort from observing the limits of longevity.

But Rome resists those expectations. Mere mortals may strut along the Corso now. Soon enough they must stagger, then collapse. The street has seen it all before, and will see it all again. So this city, unlike any other, tells us that our lives are carved in water.

Back here in the City on the Yarra, where gangs roam the night and the pollsters say the Labor government will suffer no setback for politicising the police force and squandering more than a billion dollars not to build a needed tunnel (because Greens don’t like cars and the wrong union would have bagged all those jobs), we shall see what the vote-counters of the evening bring.

But in the meantime let this link direct the mind’s eye to Rome. Melancholy as the Eternal City may be to some, that would be an improvement on a Garden State apparently set for four more years of domination by noxious weeds.

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