There is more to Rome, and Romans, than bread and circuses; Juvenal knew that. He was merely commenting that giving bread and circuses to the populace diverted them from, perhaps, more pressing issues. I am trying to cram the history of Rome, and not just its glory days as the centre of a powerful empire, but the whole kit and caboodle, from being to 2006, into a few pages of text. I am writing a travel book; it needs to have interest in the form of fact, but it does not want to be crushed beneath its weight. Enough happened in the five days I was in Rome without thousands of years prior to be included as well. What is worthy of detailed mention? What should only be given a fleeting mention? What, and this is the really hard bit, should be omitted? Do I create the highlights of Rome’s history around the obvious elements of archaeology remaining or, because they are given so much publicity, skim around those times and give more to the lesser known times?
Whichever way I twist I am going to upset somebody. The classicists and lovers of Imperial Rome would be disappointed if I glossed over the events and outputs of their period. Those interested in the Middle Ages would argue that Rome did not just disappear into a black hole, far from it, and the Renaissance in the early Modern period was indeed a time of rebirth. Enthusiasts of later modern and contemporary history would be baying for my blood if I omitted the years of Berlusconi, Mussolini, Vittorio Emmanuelle II and the French influence. And all of this intertwined with the church; the church, the state within a state, and all its influences – good and bad.
I am tempted to sate the tastes of the reading populace with bread and circuses. I would be steering them from some equally tasty treats but it may divert them from noticing the things I have little interest in. What I have to do is base the book primarily around my experiences – visual, aural, oral, touching and tasty – it is after all a telling of MY story.
There will be complaints, no doubt, that is the price I willingly accept for putting my version of the truth out there... but it is difficult to understand someone when they have a mouth full of bread and the party is in full swing.
City Chronicles: A Little Bit of Italy. Due for release in Spring 2012